Brexit & the threat to Human Rights
The UK's decision to exit the EU has caused widespread uncertainty and confusion as to what the country's legal and constitutional landscape will look like a few years down the line. The debate is currently focused on access to the single market and the implications for our economy. However another major area of concern is how the protection of human rights in the UK will be affected.
The UK's human rights obligations are largely the result of our being signatory to an array of international instruments and treaties. Of these the most influential is the European Convention on Human Rights, which was signed in 1950 and transposed into our domestic law by the Human Rights Act in 1998. Many people still do not realise that despite its namesake the ECHR is not a creation of the European Union but a separate entity known as the Council of Europe. Therefore exiting the EU does not automatically mean a severing of the rights and obligations set out in the ECHR. However the threat posed to it is very real.
Before the referendum had even taken place the Conservative government had pledged to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a 'British Bill of Rights', whilst remaining signed up to the ECHR. The Ministry of Justice under the then Justice Secretary Michael Gove made no real progress, no doubt due to the complexities that this task actually entails.
Post-referendum, matters are now far more complicated. During her tenure as Home Secretary Theresa May made it clear that she would prefer the UK to remove itself from the ECHR. Clearly as Prime Minister she is now in a position to make that happen, and the referendum vote will give her government the political impetus to make it happen.
The danger is that as the UK severs its ties with Europe it will become isolated and unaccountable. Last week lawyers wrote an open letter published in the Observer warning that withdrawal from the ECHR would put the UK in league with Belarus, widely regarded to be "Europe's last dictatorship". A crowdfunded campaign is also being launched to lobby EU leaders who will be at the opposite end of the table during Brexit negotiations, asking that they demand as a condition of any trade deal that the UK remain signed up to the ECHR. This is certainly an interesting strategy which could prove to be influential.
The contribution that the European Convention on Human Rights and Human Rights Act together have made to the protection of fundamental rights in the UK has been monumental and cannot be overstated. Landmark rulings relating to unlawful mass surveillance by intelligence services; the outlawing of blanket police stop and search powers; victims' rights to an effective investigation into serious crimes such as rape; inquests that require a thorough examination of the circumstances of death (perhaps best demonstrated by the 2014-2016 Hillsborough inquests, resulting in a monumental victory for the families of the 96). All these and many many more landmark achievements were made possible by the ECHR and/or Human Rights Act.
It is crucial that this progress is not undone as we exit the EU. Without the protections of the ECHR, ordinary and vulnerable people will be open to abuses of power by the powerful. This cannot be what the British people voted for.
Our renowned police actions and human rights solicitors are acknowledged experts in this complex field of law. The team routinely works on high-profile and newsworthy matters, including advising members of the Hillsborough Family Support Group following the Hillsborough Disaster and advising Michael Mansfield QC in relation to the Pitchford Inquiry into unlawful undercover policing.
The expert team of solicitors is always happy to offer an initial, free, no-obligation telephone discussion and can advise you on how a complaint can be funded either privately or through Legal Aid.
For a free, no-obligation, initial discussion of how we may be able to help, including possible funding options, please contact us today.
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