The Human Rights Act

Human Rights Act 38 degrees


‘The Human Rights Act (HRA) has two principal effects: firstly, it transposes the rights contained in the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) into the domestic legal systems of Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales. Secondly and crucially, it places an absolute obligation on all public bodies, including institutions such as the police, local authorities and the National Health Service, to act in a way that is compatible with those rights’ – Michelle Donnelly, tutor in Human Rights Law at the University of Strathclyde.

The ECHR does not set the law, nor does it prevent the implementation of laws that infringe liberties.

Radicals, racism and Human Rights; migrants and the Magna Carta; freedoms and fox hunting; fracking, unco gas and a fisherman’s friend; a new peer and the bottom tier. The second half of this article is a 1800 word post UK General Election commentary on Scottish politics. It is both light and heavy-hearted

The Human Rights Act

The newly-elected majority UK Conservative Government has started how it means to go on by proposing to replace the HRA with a British Bill of Rights, thereby in one fell swoop breaching the Scotland Act 1998, the Welsh devolution settlement and the Good Friday Agreement, the bedrock of the peace process in Northern Ireland. The existing legislation acts as a safeguard, providing a legal framework for access to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as the Right to life; Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment; Right to liberty and security; Freedom from slavery and forced labour; Right to a fair trial; No punishment without law; Respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence; Freedom of thought, belief, expression, assembly, association and religion; Right to marry and start a family; Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms; Protection from assault for children; Right to peaceful enjoyment of your property; Right to oppose the ‘bedroom tax’; Right to education; and the Right to participate in elections. The HRA 1998 fully abolished capital punishment and ended invasive police ‘stop-and-search’ procedures, for example.

Britain takes in proportionally less Syrian refugees than any European country except Belarus

Hope not fear – a worthy mantra. Hopeful? Good, but folk should be feart about the next fortnight, yet alone the prospect of another five years of harrowing Tory misrule. Once again we shall plough a progressive furrow under the yoke of a UK Government which has no mandate to govern Scotland. Here comes a policy offensive of offensive policies, a concerted ideological attack. Prepare to tread on eggshells across a neo-liberal minefield, because the ‘consultation’ or proposal to abolish the HRA is but one harbinger of foul legislation to come. Now a majority Government, shot of those pesky Lib Dems, expect a deluge, years of turbulence as we reach many a deadlock combating a UK Government programme cloaked in triumphalism at present, but always driven by an underlying imperative – the maintenance, promotion and furtherance of conservative hegemony.

Ratification of the ECHR may be essential for EU membership but, like other signatories and laws, cherry-picking the parts to enact determines the reality of the execution. Proposing to repeal the HRA will provoke constitutional conflict with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the EU in Brussels and could be portrayed, construed and explained as mischievous appeasement, pandering to backbenchers lest they become backstabbers too early for comfort. Or ill-conceived inflammatory actions in the hubris of victory. In reality the repeal is about marginalising and creating a bottom tier of British citizens and further restricting immigration – what the proposed Bill of Rights and other legislation aims in effect to achieve. Tory policy on the HRA – and non-acceptance of migrants from Africa and Myanmar, for example – reeks of a narrow nationalism, if not blatant racism. Calculated calls for Britain to take its full 60,000 share of refugees highlight the yawning chasm in thinking between the fresh intake of SNP MPs who are making or backing such a demand, and a UK Government hell-bent on hiding behind manifesto claims that replacing the HRA with a British Bill of Rights will change nothing. If that’s true, why propose doing it? VE Day wasn’t celebrated by re-enacting the Blitz; why mark 800 years of the Magna Carta by destroying freedoms for which we have fought hard over the centuries? Note to UK Prime Minister David Cameron – fire Magna Carta into Google, since you didn’t seem to know when it was signed or even what it was, when you were asked last year. While you’re in touch with Google, get them to put their tax affairs in order. Ping! – there goes my integrated access to Google’s search engine.

It is not far-fetched to consider laws proposed to thwart radicalisation as a threat to the right to oppose and protest against, for example, another illegal adventurist war in the future, or even for such legislation to be used to counter us subversive Scots. After all, we voted for a ‘radical’ alternative – end austerity measures and fight to halt the forthcoming £12billion cuts.

So this UK Government courts and represents the bankers, big business, UKIP voters and the Daily Mail ‘readership’, not to mention old friends in the Countryside Alliance.

Scottish fox

If you’d like another laugh, read  how the SNP falls short at first challenge in the House of Commons. Better still, follow the career of the latest addition to the House of Lords. To get a second member of the Scottish Office team because only one Tory was elected as a MP in Scotland on May 7th, Cameron created a new peer in the House of Lords. Step up Andrew Dunlop, who is a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher. Dunlop was suddenly made a Lord to solve a staff shortage and fill the role of Junior Minister at the Scotland Office. This man helped to facilitate the introduction of the Poll Tax in Scotland in 1989, a year before the rest of the UK landed that hateful Tax. It was a blatant breach of the Treaty of Union. Remember that? 1707 – we do have long memories. Furthermore we can read and learn from our books, even if Scottish history isn’t on the schools’ curricula. Andrew Dunlop was forced to quit a previous job as a local councillor after cheating car parking regulations in East Sussex, all part and parcel of his car-crash of a career so far. He was a trustee of the discredited Atlantic Bridge educational ‘charity’ set up by former Tory defence secretary Liam Fox MP and run by Fox’s friend Adam Werritty. (Fox is a friend of the fox and against repeal of the hunting ban.) Dunlop went on to star as David Cameron’s adviser during the referendum campaign in 2014. It’s called cronyism or modern patronage. As the junior minister he earns more than his boss, Scottish Secretary David Mundell. You couldn’t make it up.

It would make a better headline if Dunlop had been a Fisherman’s Friend. Even Andy Coulson must be wondering what the fox going on. How about Michael Gove (now the Justice Secretary) revealing when he was Education Secretary that he was beaten at his Aberdeen school for being rude?

‘I’ve always thought that Batman hired Robin simply to draw fire: throwing a teenage boy a bright yellow cape and telling him to run through a darkened warehouse full of goons. There seems to be little difference in getting Michael Gove to dress up in a bib and plus fours and throwing him into a roomful of barristers. Gove’s appointment as justice secretary seems to be somewhere between a sardonic trolling of the judiciary and simple misdirection. If he ever does have to produce a Bill of Rights it will be a Producers-style clusterfuck that draws attention away from all the real business of the government.’

‘What if David Cameron is an evil genius?’ – Guardian article by Frankie Boyle, published on 1st June

Next thing Jim Murphy will be writing a review on Scottish Labour before falling off a shattered Irn Bru crate. Rumour has it that Thatcher couldn’t find King Herod but instead wanted her great pal Jimmy Saville to be made a Lord, then for him to be co-opted to the Cabinet to oversee UK child welfare. In the event of ‘independence – the Scots keeping all their oil revenues’, the lights could be kept on ‘by burning the hidden files on Westminster politicians abusing children’ – © Frankie Boyle.


Anti-strike trade union laws and a Westminster veto on devolved welfare benefits loom. Watering down the Smith Commission ‘recommendations’ and non-implementation of ‘the Vow’ beckon. The next provocation may be scheduling the EU referendum across the UK in May 2016 when Scottish Parliament elections for Holyrood are due. Expect further dismantling and privatisation of the NHS. Representation and MSP leadership, when subjects critical for Scotland (like fishing) are due to be debated, must be negotiated, likewise income tax rates and a share of VAT for Scotland. There must be a guarantee – for what it’s worth – that Holyrood cannot be dissolved.

This is by no means a Parliamentary struggle: it doesn’t have to be a defensive fight. Nor is it a time for transitional demands or doing nothing, because ‘those suffering will revolt of necessity’. Sitting back and allowing the vulnerable to struggle even more is the worst kind of economism. For every revolutionary, there are so many reformists, opportunists, flunkeys, centrists, professional politicians, lackeys who should have been civil servants, wannabe Lords and craven careerists. The response from the 56 SNP MPs at Westminster will be examined and put to test when dealing with the monarchy, NATO, Palestine, banking, big business, the Living Wage and trade union issues. The recent agreement with the STUC and winning a Commons debate over claims made in William McNeilly’s dossier of security failings around the Trident nuclear programme are developments in welcome directions.

What about an unequivocal outright ban on fracking and unco gas exploration, strident opposition to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and promotion of sensible anti-austerity measures, like the likely need to raise Income and Corporation Tax rates to finance major infrastructure and public works projects, to invest in a progressive programme? No more grandstanding to the likes of Trump at Menie, Ratcliffe at Ineos, that ilk. Pick suitable bedfellows. Build a broad-based opposition. Educate, we need common sense and strong beliefs to combat the prevailing falsehoods. Unite, rally, agitate, strike and scream; make sure your voices are heard. ‘End reliance on food banks: make the bankers squeal. No to austerity! Scrap Trident, not the Human Rights Act’

An edited copy of this article was published by CommonSpace in May.

Dr Paul Arnell, reader in law at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, welcomed the change in direction from the government around the Human Rights Act: “The UK Government has clearly watered down its human rights proposals. The Conservative Party’s manifesto contained a clear commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. The Queen’s Speech fails to mention the Human Rights Act at all, instead referring to a promise to bring forward a proposal for a British Bill of Rights. It appears clear that the reactions arising from the majority Conservative victory, in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland has caused the Government to think twice.”

Related reading:-

‘The government says no to democratic reform – the abolition of the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee’ by Graham Allen MP

Guardian article – ‘David Cameron prepared to break with Europe on human rights’

The debate about the Human Rights Act is confused and confusing. ‘So what is to be done? And what is the new Tory government proposing? If only they had the nearest, foggiest clue’ writes Andrew Tickell. ‘They don’t know whether they want to denounce the Convention or not. They haven’t thought through the consequences. They don’t know whether or not they are entitled to repeal the Human Rights Act unilaterally. They don’t know what provisions of the Human Rights Act they particularly object to. They claim that they are concerned about the extent of judicial power, but it is far from obvious how any British Bill is likely significantly to diminish judicial authority. And even better, they don’t even know what they want to put in a British Bill of Rights. Perhaps a crumb of Magna Carta.  A bit about juries. It is an exercise in truthiness. In policy-making from the gut. In vague aspirations and acute delusions of victimisation. Pity poor Gove. He’s baking bricks without straw here’


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