Tories threaten human rights

Submitted by Matthew on 18 May, 2016 - 1:11 Author: Colin Foster

The Queen’s Speech — the government’s announcement of its plans for new laws — on 18 May is likely to include the Tories’ implementation of their Education White Paper and replacing the Human Rights Act.

The Tories stated their thinking on the Human Rights Act as far back as 2005: “to liberate the nation from the... politically correct regime ushered in by Labour’s enthusiastic adoption of human rights legislation”. The Human Rights Act, legislated in 1998 by the Labour government, wrote the European Convention on Human Rights into British law. It enabled people to bring cases citing that convention in British courts, including challenges to government regulations and decrees. The European Convention on Human Rights dates from 1950, and was largely a British initiative, implemented through the Council of Europe (which had ten member states when founded in 1949 — before the EU or its predecessors — and now includes almost all European states). Before 1998, British citizens could bring legal cases under the Convention, but only by laboriously going through the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Home Secretary Theresa May has said that Britain should not only repeal the Human Rights Act, but quit the Convention. The official Tory policy is that they will write the 1950 text of the Convention into British law; reject all the subsequent extensions-through-interpretation by the European Court; install “a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged” so as to invalidate “trivial cases”; and provide that “Britain’s courts will no longer be required to take into account rulings from the Court in Strasbourg”. Aware that “under the terms of the current treaty it will remain open to individuals to take the UK to the Strasbourg Court claiming a breach of their Convention rights, and resultant judgments of the Court will be seen to be binding on the UK as a treaty obligation”, they will “seek agreement” from the Council of Europe to modify that, and, if they don’t get that, quit the Convention.

The gist is clear: the Tories will make it harder to claim human rights, and make the remaining rights ones which can be changed at any time by a parliamentary majority. An “Extremism Bill” is also promised which will provide for anyone with “extremist views” — defined as something like “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”, or what the government deems “British values”, anyway — to be banned, for example, from working in schools.

David Anderson QC, the official reviewer of anti-terrorist legislation, has already (in a September 2015 report) warned that this means making it “legitimate for the state to scrutinise (and the citizen to inform upon) the exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers of law-abiding people”.

The Tories have drawn back from a blanket rule that all schools must become “academies” by a certain date, but plan to go on with pressure to make schools academies and forcibly to intervene in local authories deemed to be “failing”. National terms and conditions for teachers, from which academies and free schools are already exempt, will be shredded. Recognised teacher qualifications will be abolished to be replaced by head teachers’ say-so.

Also likely in the Queen’s Speech is a Higher Education Bill which will lift the ceiling on university tuition fees and, at the other end of the “market”, make it easier for cut-price universities on the US model to award degrees. A new regime for prisons will allow “failing jails” to be taken over on the model of “academy schools”.