MENTER responded to the Consultation on a UK Bill of Human Rights

Our Chief Officer Ila Chandavarkar responded to the discussion paper on a UK Bill of Human Rights.

Read full reponse below 

"I respond to this consultation on behalf of MENTER. MENTER is a charity and a regional Black and Minority Ethnic network in the East of England. In order to collate our response, MENTER corresponded with members and other stakeholders – most recently at an event in Norwich on the 1st of November which attracted over 50 delegates. MENTER has a mailing list of over 300 Black and Minority Ethnic organisations and an equivalent list for non BME organisations. For example, MENTER had a response rate to its last survey of over 100 (out of some 150 sent out) voluntary sector infrastructure organisations across the East of England.

Our response to the consultation question: “Do you think we need a UK Bill of Rights” is that we do not need a UK Bill of Rights. I cannot answer question 2 as I think we should remain with the Convention and the UK ratification of this in terms of human rights. If there is no UK Bill, current provision with its four components would continue which I think is right as there are significant and fundamental variations in law between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

I would like to elaborate on my views. No argument has been put forward (that I and others can see) that shows how rights in a UK Bill will differ substantially from the current rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The example, I have had quoted is the addition of the right to trial by jury which I view as a process and not a right. The current right would remain the right to a fair trial.

I agree that there is a need for a constitutional charter of fundamental rights but I feel this has to some extent been addressed by the Human Rights Act 1998 which linked process to the Convention rights and provided legal remedies in domestic courts for violations of these rights. I do not see any proposal in the Commission’s Discussion Paper which illustrates what further protection could be given through a new Bill especially with regard to restricting Parliamentary sovereignty and ending the current withholding from courts the power to strike down Acts of Parliament that are incompatible with Convention Rights. If this case was made and it was compelling I would consider again the proposal of a new UK Bill of Rights that kept the current rights but added provision to temper Parliamentary sovereignity when this violated human rights. However, I do not think this can be provided by a new Bill of Human Rights but by a written constitution and there would be other questions to be addressed such as the role of the monarchy since Parliament acts on behalf of the monarch.

I think there is also an issue of trust with the Government’s proposals as I have many examples of misinformation from Coalition MPs – as, for example, the Home Secretary’s speech at conference (copied from UKIP) on the immigrant and the cat. Not only was this not a human rights case, the application was for leave to remain which shows that the immigrant was here legally. I do not have the space to quote other examples but this is true of many Ministers, including the Prime Minister. I find extremely disturbing the way that politicians interfered with sentencing after the August riots which I think poses a fundamental challenge to the Rule of Law and the responsibility of an independent judiciary to interpret and apply the law impartially and fairly, free from government influence or interference. Again, I do not have any information in the consultation which shows how a UK Bill of Rights would address this issue of interference with the judiciary.

Current human rights are not a knee jerk reaction to a terrible war. They are constantly being reaffirmed as vital providing the basics in determining a good society. The many cases illustrated by the British Institute of Human Rights and others shows the real need for the present system. If we don’t have a consistent view on rights with other countries we have lost an understanding of what a basic human right is, as this should be regardless of a country’s political or cultural life. The danger is that without this universal agreement, rights could easily be tempered to suit the powerful and this could result in anarchy – a dangerous state of affairs for any country in terms of resultant damage socially, economically and culturally. Human rights don’t just protect “special groups”, particularly among the undeserving. They protect all – rich and poor as I think Justice David Eady showed in relating the Max Mosley case to the Human Rights Act and Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

We believe that instead of diverting resources to a new Bill, the Government should ensure that rights and the law upholding these are clear to both individuals and public bodies – rather than the current misinformation being presented. Most importantly, this education should show how responsibilities are enshrined in the current rights. If there are rights that are currently not contained in the present Universal Declaration and the Conventions, the Government should present these proposals (as examples for the new Bill) to the independent Commission who could then consult on these – I cannot see what these are in this discussion paper. I certainly do not believe that the present Human Rights Act should be repealed or changed – this will not better protect human rights. The Government should also ensure that there is a fair and equitable process that provides access to justice for all. Current proposals to reform legal aid undermines the ability to seek redress when rights are violated. Rights that are violated do not disappear – they lead to a growing body of dissatisfied and marginalised people who may well contribute to increasing violence, rioting and crime. The larger the group of people who feel they are disbarred from justice or opportunities, the greater the damage to the country. The book “Spirit Level” provided a wealth of evidence to show the real economic and social benefits of a more equitable and fair society. Current human rights are fundamental for Government values of fairness, dignity and respect and will ensure that not only can these remain but are also essential to the Big Society that is being proposed."

Ila Chandavarkar

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