UK freedom laws under threat – again


HUMAN rights campaigners have urged the United Nations to scrutinise and challenge any attempt by Westminster to downgrade personal freedom laws.

They fear a Bill of Rights will water down the UK’s commitment to the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has also warned the coalition government’s austerity measures have impacted harder on women, children, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities.

Campaigners have urged governments in both Westminster and Holyrood to make people more aware of their existing entitlements and warn the Bill of Rights is a distraction.

Professor Alan Miller, of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, was giving evidence to the UN in Geneva as part of the “universal periodic review process”, where the UK’s record is scrutinised every four years.

Speaking on behalf of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, as well as his own organisation, he said: “[We] are concerned that the current UK Bill of Rights process may undermine existing protections in the Human Rights Act 1998.

“The [UN’s] Human Rights Council should closely examine the UK government’s plans, and challenge what these would mean for people’s every day lives.”

A SHRC spokeswoman added: “We are concerned by the effect of the economic crisis and austerity measures adopted by the UK government on the enjoyment of human rights.”

Professor Miller was backed by Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS). Carole Ewart, chairwoman of HRCS, said: “The Bill of Rights is an unwanted distraction. We need to make better use of what we already have. People at the moment are insufficiently standing up for their rights because they do not know what their rights are.”

Highlighting examples, she added: “Article three is the prohibition of degrading treatment; if you had an elderly relatively being poorly treated in a care home you could invoke that.

“If your home is damp or you have antisocial neighbours, article eight — right to respect for one’s home — kicks in.”

The coalition government launched a commission on a UK Bill of Rights in March 2011, which is due to report by the end of this year. Although its recommendations are not known, campaigners are fearful following the UK government’s response to human rights decisions, such as David Cameron saying he feels “physically sick” at the idea of prisoners voting.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “The government is committed to upholding our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

“The commission on a Bill of Rights remit is to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations.”