By Dawn M. Sanders
“The UK is facing the biggest roll-back of human rights in its history.”
Was a statement posted on 18 May, by Amnesty International UK.
Is the proposed scrapping of the Human Rights Act (HRA) a catalyst for staying in the EU?
Nikki Sharpe, a solicitor, former councillor and human rights campaigner said: ” I would say the two are interlinked – particularly under this government, you only have to look at the erosion of human rights.”
Simply put, the winners and losers in a replacement of the HRA,as described by Ms. Sharpe, would be those seemingly at the top, i.e. politicians and people with financial leverage, versus the losing poor and disenfranchised at the bottom.
“This is attributable to cuts in legal aid.”
According to Chambers Associate, legal aid was brought about in 1949 – allowing 80% of citizens access to the law. However, accessing legal aid was at 29% as of 2008.
Immigration/asylum cases have been at the forefront of cuts, while the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) goes much further. The LASPO suggested cuts of 320M from 2014 and 220M each year by 2018. Article 6 of the act, the right to a fair trial, is compromised if one has no access to the funds to take a case to trial.
Both Ms. Sharpe and Alex Jagger, of Amnesty Sheffield point out many people have no knowledge of the HRA or how to access it.
Mr. Jagger said: “The Human Rights Act, is the British implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and it really brought human rights on shore, as of 1998.”
He emphasised one had to apply to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after an initial hearing in the UK before the introduction of the act.
“As far as the British Bill of Rights – we don’t know anything about it, because the government hasn’t proposed anything.” Jagger said.
In a workshop led by Ms. Sharpe on 21st June 2016, it was reiterated how most ordinary people do not know where they stand with the law. It was pointed out our rights often hinge on whether one gets arrested or not. Ms. Sharpe stressed how organisations often bypass the HRA, such as local authorities.
She said it was more crucial than ever, that we fight for our human rights.
On 28 April of the same year, the Independent sited the crucial use of article 2 of the ECHR, the right to life, which gave pardon to the Hillsborough deaths in 1989.
The government are seemingly awaiting the outcome of the referendum. The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott, stressed how, within parliament there are fears of the damages on crucial political processes: such as the Good Friday Agreement, fighting international crime and the constitution itself, should the HRA be scrapped – therefore, there are few in favour.
Like many things, whether we leave or remain, the HRA is in jeopardy and will no doubt spark fierce opposition should the Tories try to replace it.