Right now your human rights in the UK are protected by the Human Rights Act, passed in 1998.
The act reinforces your right to life, meaning the state is required to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody. It also protects against torture, slavery, unlawful detention and discrimination. It gives you a right to privacy, freedom of speech and a family life, plus a bunch of other stuff.
It means no worries, for the rest of your days.
But it’s no problem free philosophy, because the Conservative government wants to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.
Scenes of Reason made the boring not boring for you. We also spotted something the poster campaigns missed.
The Human Rights Act was passed to bring Britain into line with the European Convention on Human Rights. Let’s be clear – this has nothing to do with the European Union. This is an agreement of the basic rights that all European citizens should have. It was created, with Britain leading the way, after WWII to make sure atrocities such as the Holocaust did not happen again. It’s the job of the European Court of Human Rights to make sure that participating countries like Britain toe the line. This is the bit that the government doesn’t like – we’ll get to that in a minute.
If your human rights have been violated, the Human Rights Act means your case can be heard in the UK courts, rather than having to go straight to the European Court of Human Rights.
Under the Human Rights Act, it is illegal for any UK public authority – including police officers, local authorities, government departments, prisons and social care providers – to ignore your human rights. You can take your case to court if they do so. With one catch, these guys can ignore your human rights if Parliament has passed a law saying that they can.
UK courts can decide that UK legislation is not in line with the human rights contained in the European Convention, but Parliament does not legally have to do anything about it. It’s up to Parliament whether or not to amend that legislation. Similarly, when deciding how UK law fits with the European Convention, the UK courts are not required to follow what the European Court of Human Rights thinks. Instead UK courts just have to “take into account” any decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights.
There is wiggle room in this act.
According to the Conservative party, the wiggle room currently allowed by the Human Rights Act is not enough.
Basically the current UK government doesn’t like being told what to do, or being stopped from doing what it wants to do. The argument is that the European Court of Human Rights has too much power, and tends to interpret human rights law much more loosely than the UK likes.
The previous government was especially annoyed by how long it took to deport Abu Qatada to face terror charges in Jordan, because the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he risked torture and inhumane treatment.
Here are four reasons the Conservatives have put forward for scrapping the act, translated into plain English.
The European Court of Human Rights has developed ‘mission creep’: The Strasbourg Court has gone human rights loco, interpreting the European Convention beyond what the original authors of the Convention ever had in mind. For example, a 2007 ruling required the UK to allow many more prisoners the right to go through artificial insemination with their partners, in order to uphold their rights to a family life under Article 8. According to the Conservative party, “this is not what the originators of the Convention had in mind when they framed that article.”
The Human Rights Act undermines the UK courts. In a nutshell, the government doesn’t like that UK courts have to “take into account” the reasoning of the European Court of Human Rights, as it means that “problematic Strasbourg jurisprudence is often being applied in UK law.”
In practice, the Human Rights Act undermines the authority of Parliament. The Conservative argument is that UK courts have sometimes preferred to follow the lead of the European Court of Human Rights when deciding whether UK law complies with human rights or not. This has sometimes meant that the court’s decision went against what Parliament intended when they were writing the law in the first place, and Parliament is supposed to be sovereign.
The Human Rights Act goes beyond the UK’s obligations under the Convention. Decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights are supposed to be binding, meaning that the court can tell the UK to change its laws if they don’t properly fit with the European Convention. There was nothing in the original European Convention that allowed for this. The UK’s authority to control its own law should not be undermined by a European court, it is argued.
This last point is up for debate though. The European Court of Human Rights ruled a decade ago that Britain should allow its prisoners to vote, in order to fit with Article 3 allowing free and fair elections. The UK has seriously contested this ruling and so far no changes have been made to the law. So it’s not true to say that the European Court of Human Rights has the all-out power to force the UK to change its law, because so far it hasn’t been successful in changing Britain’s law on prisoners’ voting rights.
The Conservative party manifesto promised to scrap the Human Rights Act and bring in a British Bill of Rights.
Nobody knows yet what exactly this will involve. We’re expecting a draft this Autumn.
Here’s what the manifesto promised to do:
“The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights. It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society. But it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society. Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.”
If you live in London, Manchester or drive around major motorways, you’ve maybe seen the “I Needed the Human Rights Act” poster campaign.
If you’re like us, you don’t have time to read everything on the posters because the escalators go too fast. So here’s the campaign in full.
The gist is that anyone can need human rights law, and the Human Rights Act was intended to make that more secure for people.
But the poster campaign has missed those who will be most affected. Most affected by the bill will likely be terror suspects and foreign criminals. Like it says in the Conservative manifesto, the plan is to make it harder for these people to appeal to the right not to be tortured or inhumanely treated, or to the right to a family life as grounds not to be deported from the UK.
Put plainly, the British Bill of Rights is likely to make it a lot easier to deport people to places the European Court has judged dangerous or likely to treat their criminals inhumanely.
Even though terror suspects, foreign national prisoners and migrants will see the biggest changes once the Human Rights Act is scrapped, they are not very often included in otherwise very good campaigns like the posters or like this one.
This is understandable: they are what we call the Unpopular Humans. Very few people in society are willing to stand up for the rights of terror suspects or foreign criminals. They don’t make very good poster boys. Some would argue they don’t deserve this kind of fair treatment, or that they are abusing human rights to get around the system.
But for some, it’s how we treat terror suspects or foreign criminals which is a marker of our commitment to humanity. Are these people less deserving of their human rights?
For others, the opportunities these people have had to appeal to their human rights has been an obstruction to Britain’s national security and Britain’s authority to make its own decisions.
Here’s a letter you can sign if you are concerned about this. If you reckon the government is doing the right thing, sit back and relax.
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Poor body image, eating disorders, “bigorexia” and suicide. It’s time to talk about men’s suffering – and we’re not talking about man flu. Here’s why saying “man up” is harmful;
Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 15-34. In the UK 75% of suicide victims are men.
One in 10 men who train in gyms could be suffering from “bigorexia” AKA muscle dysphoria.
This is an anxiety disorder, where despite being large and muscular, men feel small and weak.
It can lead to steroid abuse, mental health problems and even suicide.
Bigorexia is often described as the opposite of Anorexia. This is an eating disorder characterized by a desire to be thin and a fear of gaining weight.
The facts above suggest these are real, tangible problems. Yet when issues like eating disorders or mental health are covered, it’s often (though not always) with a focus on women. Why?
Research suggests that men are less likely to recognise health symptoms themselves. They’re also less likely to come forward for a check-up. The same is true for mental health disorders, where men are less likely to report symptoms than women.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that when exploring these issues we focus on women rather than men. After all, the numbers suggest that women may be more at risk. Eating disorders are 10 times more common in women than men. Women are 40% more likely to develop a mental illness than men.
Yet this isn’t providing the full story. Matt Haig notes that whilst UK women may be more likely to suffer from depression, more men commit suicide. “As suicide is usually a symptom of depression, this suggests men are not getting the help they need.”
Dig deeper and you realise this all comes down to those pesky “traditional” gender roles that men and women are supposed to adhere to.
Psychologist Will Meek defines gender roles as “a set of attitudes, behaviours, and self-presentation methods ascribed to members of a certain biological sex”
(FYI the World health Organisation (WHO) defines “Sex” as “biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women”
and “Gender” as “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”)
So when describing Western traditional gender roles for men, think: don’t cry, stay tough, and work hard. Man up, essentially.
Working with men-only therapy groups Dr. Martin Seager identified the “three rules of masculinity”. Be a fighter and a winner, be a provider and a protector, retain mastery and control.
“If you break any of those, you don’t feel like a man.
So if you don’t have a job, for a woman that’s awful, but if [a] man doesn’t have a job he doesn’t feel he can provide or protect – so he’s lost his masculinity. That’s why the suicide rate for the unemployed is greater for men.”
Seager believes that “this isn’t genetic: we are biologically evolved as male.” Put simply; our image of a “male” is influenced by society.
Now, it could be argued that our society is slowly becoming more accepting of different ideas of masculinity. Yet the pressure of fitting within the “traditional” gender roles is such that some men find it hard to come forward when perceiving symptoms to be “un-manly”.
For example, a study of 135 men with eating disorders found that several bulimia victims were ashamed of suffering from a disorder typically associated with females.
It’s important to remember that women also face longstanding destructive cultural practices. The phrase “man up” pressurises men, emphasising that they should aspire to be masculine.
Yet it also belittles women by portraying “feminine” behaviour as inferior.
So, whilst it’s OK to question whether “man up” is “the most destructive phrase in modern culture” we should probably focus on calling out negative stereotypes which affect both men and women.
Talk about it! Raising awareness will help us get past gender stereotypes and allow men AND women to come forward and get the help they need.
There are lots of resources and helplines if you, or someone you know, are experiencing mental or physical problems.
READ: The Men’s Health Forum provides information and raises awareness on issues surrounding men.
SPEAK: Mental health charities like Mind run helplines so you can get help even if you don’t want to speak to someone you know.
Samaritans run a free 24-hour helpline; you don’t have to give any personal details if you don’t want to. If something is troubling you, then get in touch.
Think we missed something? Let us know firstname.lastname@example.org
The UK is China’s new bezzie pal… or is that the other way around? What do we need from China and what do they want in return? Time for some explaining;
This year the UK government signed up for the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
This is a proposed investment bank which will focus on developing infrastructure in Asia. Think: roads, railways, airports.
The UK was the first non-Asian country to join the AIIB, followed rapidly by other European countries.
By backing the bank, we won a place in China’s good books.
Now the Chinese President Xi Jinping makes the first state visit to the UK in 10 years. Our prime minister David Cameron says the UK can be “China’s best partner in the west”.
So why are we suddenly being all friendly?
China has the second largest economy in the world, after the USA. Unlike Western countries, China’s economy is growing fast. For the past few years China’s economy has grown at a rate of 10% per year. Compare that to the UK’s economy, which is growing at around 0.7% per year.
Academic Martin Jacques mentions that the last time a Chinese President visited the UK, our economy was bigger than China’s. So there. Now the tables have turned, and some predict China will be bigger than the USA in a few years. So it makes sense for us to cosy up to the world’s new superpower.
Put simply: China’s economic worth is going up and the UK wants in.
The UK wants a slice of the Chinese pie as China’s wealth means it can invest in UK projects. China is interested in backing investing in UK nuclear power, the high-speed HS2 railway and the “Northern Powerhouse”.
FYI the Northern Powerhouse is the Conservatives’ idea to invest in the north of England to boost the economy of the area, focusing on the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield.
Ummm, not exactly.
Some economists were skeptical when the government started schmoozing China. You see, although China’s economy is still growing, it’s growth rate is slowing down. We explained it for you in a neat video;
This year China’s growth rate slowed to around 6.8%. The Chinese Stock Market suffered some major drops in value. All signs that the country’s economic model may not work in the long-term.
In simple English: China’s economy might be in trouble; UK investment might be a bit of a gamble.
Part of the reason the Chinese economy was doing so well in recent years is because it exports products to other countries.
The downside is that these cheap exports are threatening British jobs. As the Chinese President arrived the Tata Steel company announced that 1,200 UK jobs will be cut in Scotland and the North.
They blame cheap Chinese exports for lowering the price of steel. So much for the Northern powerhouse.
Joining the Asian Investment Bank didn’t do much for UK relations with the USA. The Americans see the new bank as a threat to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the international organisation set up to ensure the stability of the world’s economy. They also aren’t happy about the Chinese building massive sea bases in the South China Sea.
The Communist Party is China’s single political party and asserts strong control over its people.
Officially the country’s constitution allows freedom of speech, however the government uses media regulations to censor what information is released.
Anti-government bloggers and activists are often jailed and prisoners are reportedly beaten and electrocuted. China has the death penalty and last year China handed out the highest number of death sentences in the world.
Earlier this year students in the Chinese territory of Hong Kong protested against the Chinese government, claiming that new rules made it easy for the Communist party to screen out candidates they don’t approve of.
In the UK protests over human rights abuses are expected throughout President Xi’s visit. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was warned by the Chinese ambassador not to make a fuss about China’s human rights.
However, it’s worth saying that life in China today is a whole lot better than it once was. Martin Jacques notes that the country has lifted 600 million people out of poverty, “arguably the single biggest global contribution to human rights over the last three decades.” Fair enough.
The Chinese Ambassador to the UK acknowledges that “China and the UK differ very much because we have different history, different culture, we are in different stage of development”.
He added “it’s natural we have differences, even in regard to human rights. In China we care more about rights to better life, to better jobs, to better housing.”
The UK has been criticised in the past for doing business with countries which have questionable human rights. The excuse often given is – it’s not our country; we shouldn’t interfere. Yet if we’re not doing business with a country, does that mean we’re quicker to point the finger over human rights abuses?
Is teaming up with the Chinese a smart move by the government? Should we ignore China’s human rights record?