20 years ago, the Human Rights Act gained royal assent in the UK. This legislation has since provided a structure through which people can seek justice against oppressive systems, inquest important legal investigations, and receive a quality of life they deserve. In spite of this, many people don’t know what the Human Rights Act can and has achieved.
The Human Rights Act protects your right to life; to freedom from torture and slavery; to fair trials; to education; to family life. It is our guarantee to the accepted rights of the Western world, and has played a part in some well-known social issues in the UK.
In 1989, the Hillsborough disaster took 96 people from their families and friends, as they were crushed by overcrowding at a football match. After almost thirty years, the Human Rights Act enforced the needs of these victims for an inquest, to understand who was responsible for the tragedy and bring them to justice. Since the Human Rights Act protects people’s right to life, deaths such as these have to be properly investigated, and their causes published. This can not only provide closure for the people affected, but raises awareness about the causes of the deaths, and forces improvements to ensure people’s safety.
The Human Rights Act also protects the rights of medical patients and those in the care of the state. The Mid Staffs hospital scandal is a good example of this aspect of the Human Rights Act. Due to poor care, up to 1200 patients died in the hospital between 2005 and 2009. However, thanks to the Human Rights Act, full inquiries into the situation were performed, and the unacceptable level of care was exposed. Again, this highlighted serious issues that had to be addressed by organisations and the government, but would have been pushed aside or ignored if not for Human Rights Act.
In 1998, the Human Rights Act was woven into peace agreements in Northern Ireland, helping to form the Good Friday agreement a century of violence. In 2008, Celia Peachey was able to inquest into her mother’s murder, finding errors in her state protection. In 2015, same-sex couples were finally allowed to become legally married in the UK. All of these examples highlight the importance of the Human Rights Act in the UK.
Despite these positive aspects, the Human Rights Act is now under threat by the majority in the Parliament. This began back in 2015, when the Conservative Party expressed their desire to repeal the EU-based Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. This sounds relatively inconsequential, but we know what we have with the EU Human Rights Act; a British equivalent may not be as comprehensive or inclusive.
For example, one proposition made in the Conservative manifesto was to include a “seriousness” threshold for a Human Rights breach to be receivable before a court. That raises grave concerns, as it means that the courts will be the ones to decide which issues are “serious enough” to afford judicial remedy to the victims of Human Rights violations. Rights such as our private and family life, our right to freedom and liberty, and our right to freedom of thought and expression are all under threat if the government alters the Human Rights Act according to their own agenda.
However, even if this is addressed, this remains something the Conservatives do not need to focus on. The current Human Rights Act already works. We do not need an alternative, especially one that may not fully protect us from human rights abuses.
Find out more information about the Human Rights Act at https://savetheact.uk and celebrate the twenty years of justice it has given us.