Human Rights Act: Explained

What does this Human Rights Act entitle me to?

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.

How does the Human Rights Act work?

Theresa May

Theresa May really REALLY doesn’t like the Human Rights Act – we’ll tell you why in a bit. Source: Telegraph

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.

Why does the government want rid of the Human Rights Act?

Right Hon Chris Grayling

Former Justice Minister Chris Grayling MP wrote up a report on scrapping the 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.

What’s in this proposed British Bill of Rights?

Justice Minister Michael Gove

Justice Minister Michael Gove is one doing the drafting

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.”

I Skipped the Rest: Who is this going to affect?

I needed the human rights act poster campaign

Not enough time to read these on the escalators?

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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THE UNITED NATIONS BIGGEST WINS… AND WORST FAILS

Casually saving the world since 1945

United Nations - casually saving the world since 1945The United Nations was set up in 1945.

Its aim: to prevent another world war and make the world a better place. Its mission statement is laid down in the UN charter.

The UN is made up of 193 member states. Members convene at the United Nations General Assembly, which is the main policy making section of the UN. All sounds very important.

The UN Security Council maintains international peace and security. No big deal.

The Security Council has five permanent members;

France, Russia, China, the USA and the UK. 10 additional nations serve two-year terms.

 

So far the United Nations have had great successes;

In 1961 the United Nations created the World Food Programme. This provides food to around 90 million people. The number of starving people in the world has dropped by around 100 million in the last decade.

 

United Nations Yokosuka, Japan (Oct. 28, 2004) - Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Tiffany Long of San Diego, Calif., administers the influenza vaccination to a crew member aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). Currently in port, Kitty Hawk demonstrates power projection and sea control as the U.S. Navy's only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, operating from Yokosuka, Japan. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Joseph R Schmitt (RELEASED)

The UN has vaccinated thousands against deadly diseases.

Eradicating smallpox is one of the United Nations greatest achievements, according to Alex Buskie at the United Nations Association.

By vaccinating more than half the world’s children against deadly diseases the UN is estimated to save 2.5 million lives a year.

The UN also takes a tough stance on war criminals.

A war crime is defined as an act carried during a war that violates accepted international rules of war.

Think: killing civilians and torturing prisoners. Not nice stuff.

In 2003 the UN set up a tribunal to trial Liberian politician Charles Taylor for war crimes during the Liberian Civil war. Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in jail. Go UN!

 

Oh, and the UN has a list of Global Development Goals which will make the world a better place. Read: the United Nations’ plan to save the world

However, not everything has gone to plan;

Nuclear Bombs Explained: Map of the world showing which countries have nuclear weapons

Nuclear Bombs Explained: Blue = NPT states (with nuclear weapons, Red = other states with Nuclear Weapons, Brown = Suspected of having weapons, Navy = NATO nuclear weapon sharing states, Green = Formally had nuclear weapons

A 1970 UN nuclear treaty committed most members to getting rid of all nuclear weapons. Some countries like South Africa have got rid of their weapons. Yet in 2015, there are still around 15,000 nukes in the world. Yikes.

The United Nations has also struggled to make headway in the fight against climate change.

In 2009, all the UN states met at a summit in Copenhagen to agree on a deal to tackle climate change. It was expected a legal treaty would be signed – but everyone came away with nothing. UN member states meet again in Paris this year to try to lock in a deal. If at first you don’t succeed.

Explained; everything you need to know about the Paris Climate Talks.

Though the UN keeps the world looking pretty by protecting World Heritage Sites it failed to stop Islamist group Islamic State blowing up ancient temples at Palmyra, Syria.

United Nations peacekeepers are now being dispatched to protect other heritage sites around the globe. Better late than never.

 

Failure to stop Genocide

Graves in Srebrenica, Bosnia

The UN failed to save lives in Srebrenica

The United Nations has also been criticised for the failure of some of its peacekeeping missions. Let’s just say the success rate is well below 100%.

In Rwanda, Africa the UN failed to stop thousands of the Tutsi minority from being murdered by the Hutu majority. It’s claimed that the UN knew it was going to happen beforehand.

The United Nations also failed to prevent another genocide (mass killing of an ethnic group or large group of people) in Srebrenica, Bosnia.

During the Bosnian civil war killings occurred inside zones that were deemed as “safe havens” by UN peacekeeping forces.

According to Human Rights Watch “United Nations peacekeeping officials were unwilling to heed requests for support from their own forces stationed within the enclave, thus allowing Bosnian Serb forces to easily overrun it and

— without interference from U.N. soldiers — to carry out systematic, mass executions of hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilian men and boys and to terrorize, rape, beat, execute, rob and otherwise abuse civilians being deported from the area.”

Not the UN’s finest hour.

 

Frenemies at the United Nations Security Council

Nuclear War Explained: President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin sit awkwardly in silence

Things are still tense between the USA and Russia

Though the Security Council is supposed to reduce international conflict there’s been tension between certain member states. Ahem, America and Russia.

The five Permanent council members have a veto power, or the power to reject plans put forward by other states. If just one of the five permanent member vetoes a particular action, it cannot go ahead – even if the other 14 countries voted for it.

Things got awkward when the UK, France and the USA wanted to intervene in the Syrian civil war… only to be blocked repeatedly by Russia and China.

Explore; why are things so tense between Russia and the West?

Then there’s the selection of Saudi Arabia as the head of the UN human rights panel.

With reports of beheadings, floggings and planned crucifixions coming from within Saudi Arabia it could be argued the country’s record on human rights is questionable to say the least.

Do we need the United Nations?

Despite some of the shortcomings listed above it is clear that the United Nations has done a lot of good in the world. However some still call it “outdated” and say that it needs to be reformed. What do you think?

 

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Battle of Britain and the Blitz; the UK’s toughest fight?

The UK remembers those who died during the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, both major events during World War II. Yet, should we do more to remember those killed from other countries?

 

What was the Battle of Britain?

A battle formation of airplanes in the Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain; actually Battle of British skies

The Battle of Britain is the name given to the World War II air campaign ran from July 1940 – October 1940.

By summer of 1940 Germany had pushed British troops out of France. The Germans were preparing to invade Britain. There was just the small matter of taking out Britain’s defences.

First the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) attempted to destroy British shipping centres. Then they targeted airfields used by the British Royal Air Force (RAF). German bomber aircraft were protected by smaller fighter planes.

Things did not look good for the British. At the beginning of the Battle of Britain the Luftwaffe could call upon 2,600 aircraft, whereas the RAF only deployed 640 planes. Not good odds.

 

So, how did the British win?

Supermarine Spitfire Mark I was a British advantage in the Battle of Britain

Best of British; the Supermarine Spitfire Mark XVI

Clear communication, good organisation and newly designed planes gave Britain an advantage.

The speed and maneuverability of a British aircraft called the Spitfire made it superior to German fighter planes. Throughout the Battle of Britain more planes would be constructed and by the end the RAF outnumbered the German force. Tally ho, chaps!

By the end of the Battle of Britain, over 2,000 German airmen were killed, compared to 544 Brits.

Speaking of the Battle of Britain then prime minister Winston Churchill said “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Germany had failed to achieve air superiority and German leader Adolf Hitler’s planned invasion of Britain was postponed. However, Britain’s troubles were just beginning…

 

What started the Blitz?

The Blitz was an eight month German bombing campaign against major British cities. It lasted from September 1940 to May 1941. Blitzkrieg means “lightning war” in German.

During the Battle of Britain Adolf Hitler had given strict instructions that central London was not to be targeted by bombers. However, on August 24th 1940 German aircraft drifted from their intended military target on the outskirts of the city. Their bombs hit central London. Even if this was accidental, the British quickly responded by bombing the German capital Berlin in retaliation.

Did the British bombing of Berlin provoke the Blitz, or would it have happened anyway? The damage to Berlin was slight, but Adolf Hitler stated “when the British Air Force … increase their attacks on our cities, then we will raze their cities to the ground.”

Frustrated by the attacks on Berlin and a failure to destroy the RAF, the Germans started targeting urban areas as well as military targets. On 7th September 1940 nearly 1,000 German planes targeted London in a daytime raid lasting nine hours.

The Blitz had begun.

 

“Lightning War”

This continued bombing of civilians in urban areas was a new type of warfare. London was bombed for 57 nights in a row. Other cities targeted included Coventry, Manchester and Birmingham.

A "spotter" watched the skies of London during the Blitz

The Blitz; On the lookout

As well as explosives, the German bombers dropped “firebombs”. These were especially dangerous, spreading fire quickly from building to building.

An attack on Coventry on 14 November 1940 left 75% of buildings destroyed.

For protection millions of children, mothers and hospital patients were moved out of cities to the safety of the countryside. For those in the cities a strict “blackout” policy was quickly enforced.

Windows and doors had to be covered with special material. Car headlights also had to be partly covered, reducing the amount of light exposed. This prevented the light providing German bombers with a target during the night.

In 1941, the number of attacks by the Luftwaffe decreased as Germany turned its focus to Russia. Britain had managed to survive the Blitz, but at a cost. Over the eight months around 43,000 British civilians were killed.

 

How does this compare to German losses in World War II?

Bomb damage from Hamburg's "blitz week" where American and British planes bombed it day and night

Bomb damage in Hamburg, which suffered it’s own “Blitz”

It’s natural that each country focuses on the deaths of its own citizens. But should we do more to educate ourselves on the losses sustained by other countries, especially if they were part of the same war?

The loss of British civilian life during the Blitz is undeniably tragic. Between 380 and 554 people died in the Coventry bombing, remembered as one of the worst attacks during the Blitz. Total casualties in London across the whole eight month period are estimated at around 28,556 people.

However bombings by Allied forces against Germany killed many more civilians.

British historian Professor Richard Overy mentions “the myth in Britain has been that we bombed military targets and Germans bombed civilian populations, but it is almost exactly the reverse”.

 

Bomb damage in the city of Dresden which was destroyed by firebombs

Firebombed; the wreckage in Dresden

Take the British attack on the German city of Hamburg in 1943. Around 42,600 Germans were killed in just one week.

To put that into context, that’s almost the same as the total number of British civilians killed during the entirety of the Blitz. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Similarly, around 25,000 people were killed in two days when the British bombed the city of Dresden.

10,000 people in the city of Kassal were killed in one night on October 22 1943.

 

In total it’s estimated 600,000 German civilians lost their lives as a result of bombings by allied forces.

 

Did the UK commit War Crimes?

The cenotaph in Whitehall, London which honours those who died during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz

We will remember them; the cenotaph in Whitehall, London

German historian Jörg Friedrich believes that the British bombings of towns during the end of World War II should be considered war crimes.

The controversial historian argues that these bombings served no military purpose as Germany was nearing surrender. Speaking to the Guardian Friedrich said “the bombing [of Kassal] left an entire generation traumatised. But it was never discussed.”

Speaking about the Blitz Winston Churchill called the bombings on the UK “cruel, wanton, indiscriminate”.

Can the same be said about Britain’s bombing of Germany later in the war?

Historian AC Grayling notes that among the bombs dropped on Germany “were time-delay devices, set to explode at intervals in the hours and days after a raid to disrupt ambulance, firefighting and rescue services.”

 

It is quite right that we commemorate the sacrifice of those who gave their lives during World War II. Yet this doesn’t mean we should forget those killed in other countries, and recognise our own actions in the conflict.

 

Blitz Learnings; fighters in the Battle of Britain and civilians during the Blitz showed great courage. However, we could do more to explore the impact of the war on other countries.

Did the British bombing of Berlin provoke the bombings known as the Blitz? Were the later bombings of German towns justified?

 

Note on accuracy; we do our utmost to ensure our articles are accurate. This is difficult in this instance when various dates and numbers of those killed differ from source to source. Where we have quoted numbers we have linked to the relevant pages. If you wish to report any errors then please email sor@scenesofreason.com

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