Written by Allan Hogarth, Head of Advocacy and Programmes at Amnesty 

The Queen’s Speech, Magna Carta anniversary
Image: The Queen’s Speech, House of Lords 2013/Roger Harris


Today marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta so quite rightly there is a lot of focus on what this lofty old document means for modern day human rights.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to see the great and the good taking this opportunity to descend on Runnymede where the document was signed, and with a great deal of pomp and ceremony praise this document and the role it played in progressing human rights.

The Prime Minister, writing in The Sun, is under no illusion on the contribution it has made to the fabric of British – and for that matter, global – society.

Those countries that fail to protect the sort of rights that flow from the Magna Carta are destined to failure. Maybe he’s thinking of Belarus, or North Korea, or one of the many other countries where people are desperate to secure the very rights we enjoy here in the UK.

Well, I wouldn’t disagree with that! We at Amnesty see how countries that show a lack of respect for human rights tend to be associated with many other problems – societies thrive when people’s rights are respected and protected.

We also understand how undermining human rights at home resonates globally, with some of those less than scrupulous countries being quick to point out that you may not be practicing what you preach.

However, as I read on, I realised to my shock and horror that the Magna Carta anniversary was being used by the Prime Minister as an opportunity to explain to Sun readers why he is committed to scrapping the Human Rights Act.

The Prime Minister explains how King John was behaving like a bully and it was the brave barons that sat him down, gave him a jolly good talking to and asked him to seal the document.

Good on them – we should all stand up to bullies whether it’s in the school playground, a despotic monarch, or democratically elected politicians.

That’s why we’re campaigning to save the Human Rights Act – the state shouldn’t be allowed to bully its citizens, deny them access to justice, or decide which rights they should have and where they should go to access them.

Scrapping the Human Rights Act is a backward step and would force citizens to travel to Strasbourg at great expense and time.

I could go through all of the tired old arguments that the Prime Minister raises in his Sun piece, but the facts remain that the UK can and does deport terror suspects and criminals, and the last time I looked the British parliament remained accountable to the British people – voting in a general election is just one way this is exercised.

Human rights are not a gift to be bestowed upon us by monarchs, barons or democratically elected politicians, they are ours to be treasured and protected. It is not up to them to decide who and who is not entitled to human rights – the ‘human’ part of this is universal.

If the Prime Minister is sincere about protecting human rights in the UK and is proud of the Magna Carta’s legacy, he should stop attacking the Human Rights Act and think about how he can ensure that we all have equal access to justice.

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