Concerns about Voter ID pilot

A guest blog by LCHR member, Dermot Mckibbin

The Government has announced that a pilot scheme will be set up to require voters to produce identification in the polling booth prior to voting. Local councils will decide on what is suitable identification, and if voters do not have the required identification they will not be able to vote. Postal votes will be unaffected.

Four pilot exercises will be conducted in Bromley (Conservative) Watford (Lib Dem), Woking, and Gosport (both Conservative).  After the pilots have been evaluated, a decision by the Government’s Cabinet Office will be taken whether to roll out the practice nationally or not.

It is not clear whether voters have to produce both photographic and non-photographic identification at the same time. No decision has been made about what type of identification is acceptable. The details have still to be worked out. It appears that the Cabinet Office will be involved in the decision-making process as a statutory instrument will be required.

The voter ID requirement was introduced in Northern Ireland in 2003. Turnout for the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections was 68.8% in 1998, 63.1% in 2003, 62.3% in 2007, 55.7% in 2011, 54.9% in 2016 and 64.8% in 2017. An Electoral Commission report on the Northern Ireland Assembly Elections fails to even consider whether the fall in voter turnout was due to the ID requirement issue.

The Electoral Reform Society is opposed to voter ID. 51.4 million votes were cast in 2015. There were 130 allegations of voting fraud and only 26 were for voter impersonation. This represents 0.00005% of the votes cast. The Government is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

In the 2011 census, 9.5 million people stated that they had no passport, 9 million did not have a driving licence, and – in 2013/4 – 1.7 million did not have a bank account. Many of these people are likely to have low incomes.

There are some legal problems with the Government’s approach. The courts can scrutinise decisions made by Government via the process of judicial review. It may be that the courts would strike down this scheme as the decision is disproportionate to the problem it seeks to remedy. Challenges to government decisions in the courts via judicial review are an expensive business, though group funding can be successful.

By virtue of Article 3 of the First protocol in the European Convention of Human Rights, The United Kingdom undertakes to hold free elections. Strasbourg case-law has established that any interference with the implied right to vote must be proportionate. The European Council on Human Rights has a code of practice on electoral matters. Any deprivation of the right to vote must be subject to the principle of proportionality.

If Labour cannot change this policy in Parliament, progressive citizens should band together to fund raise to challenge this restriction on the right to vote in the courts.

Dermot Mckibbin
Beckenham CLP

Launching Fair & Free – LCHR & Fabian Society pamphlet

We’re delighted to announce the launch of our new pamphlet on Labour, liberty and human rights published by the Fabian Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. Fair and Free includes essays by MPs, academics and human rights experts setting out a fresh vision of human rights and liberty.

With an introduction by shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti, the collection initiates a new debate on how to safeguard our freedoms in this era of uncertainty and polarisation.

In her contribution, Lisa Nandy MP argues that in future the role of governments must be to facilitate shared decision-making, not simply make those decisions themselves. “Without this, more complete democracy, the concept of democracy will continue to be contested and freedom will remain, as Janis Joplin once said, another word for nothing left to lose,” she writes. “Now that we have seen the disastrous political consequences that despair breeds, it would be criminal not to take heed.”

Shadow policing minister Louise Haigh MP argues against ‘mission creep’ on internet liberties, encryption and moves around facial recognition software. “Just as we hold the police accountable in their use of force, so must we do so in their use of data and any violation of our privacy,” she writes. “To do otherwise questions their legitimacy, which must absolutely be sustained as without it, we fail the fundamental test of the British model of policing – the ability to police by consent.”

The chapters are:

  • Dr Jason Brock, teaching fellow in intellectual history and history of political thought at Royal Holloway, University of London, writes on how Labour talks about liberty
  • Dr Andrew Fagan director of academic studies at the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre writes on economic and social rights as human rights;
  • Frank Field Labour MP for Birkenhead and Andrew Forsey head of Frank Field’s parliamentary office revisit the ‘rights and responsibilities’ debate;
  • Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley and shadow policing minister writes on Labour and law and order;
  • Dr Laura Janes, legal director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, a charity that has no political affiliations writes on rights for all;
  • Virginia Mantouvalou, professor of human rights and labour law at University College London writes on human rights, work and exploitation;
  • Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan outlines a new vision of liberty
  • Andrew Noakes, director of the Labour Campaign for Human Rights, asks what a post-Brexit immigration should look like;
  • Robert Sharp, head of campaigns at English Pen, an organisation which works to defend and promote freedom of expression writes on privacy, freedom of expression and human rights.

Robert Sharp, head of campaigns at English Pen, argues for stronger support for free speech and human rights at home and abroad. “Post-Brexit, the UK will be making dozens of new trade deals and will take on full responsibility for declaring what can be exported where,” he writes. “A Labour government can ensure that those trade deals are tied to support for free speech and human rights. Such a foreign policy will benefit everyone. But to make it work we need to get our own house in order first.”

Andrew Fagan, director of academic studies at the University of Essex’s Human Rights Centre, calls for economic and social rights to be put at the centre of the human rights debate. “Economic and social entitlements are not discretionary human rights. Thinking of oneself as a bearer of fundamental human rights is inherently empowering and fundamentally alters the terms of the social contract between the powerful and the powerless. From the perspective of human rights, the poor and the marginalised are not the ‘losers’ they are sometimes portrayed as, but human beings whose fundamental rights are being violated.”

We hope you enjoy the pamphlet!

Annual members’ consultation

We’ve just launched our annual members’ consultation, which will help determine what we campaign on in 2018. If you’re not an LCHR member yet, you can join now to participate in the survey and help shape our work.

If you’re a member you should have received the survey by email. If you’re not signed up to receive emails, please contact andrew.noakes@lchr.org.uk to receive the survey directly.

 

Brexit & human rights project

Today, as the government begins Brexit negotiations with the European Union, LCHR embarks on a new project, ‘Brexit & human rights’, a year-long policy and advocacy project which will run from June 2017 to June 2018. Our aim is to influence Brexit and post-Brexit policy in Labour and progressive circles, in order to make it compatible with human rights. You can see more about the project on our dedicated website, here.

With the assistance of a group of expert advisors, and with input from all the different constituent parts of the Labour movement, LCHR will examine the challenges and opportunities that Brexit poses for human rights in the UK. We will invite submissions from MPs, trade unions, civil society, Labour CLPs and members, and like-minded political parties, and holding high-level workshops focusing on the key issues. We will produce policy analysis and ideas to help inform the Labour Party and other progressive parties on how to ensure human rights are protected during and after Brexit.

The five key issues we are focusing on are:

  • Citizens’ rights, such as the residency rights of EU nationals living in the UK.
  • The immigration system after Brexit.
  • Human rights in post-Brexit trade deals.
  • Equality and employment rights.
  • Hate crimes and xenophobia.

Those on LCHR’s mailing list will get automatic monthly updates on the project within our regular newsletter, but if you’d like to sign up for separate updates you can do so here.

The husbands and wives depending on a Labour election victory

On the eve of this election, there are thousands of married couples whose futures hang in the balance. The result will likely determine whether or not they can live with their husband or their wife, or whether they will continue to be separated under the UK’s unfair visa regime.

In 2012, the Home Office – under Theresa May’s leadership – implemented new minimum income requirements for non-EEA applicants for spousal visas. They are so high that the UK now scores at the bottom of the league tables for ease of family reunion. To bring a spouse (or indeed an unmarried partner) to the UK, not including application costs, requires £18,600 annual gross income, which increases by the thousands if there are children too.

But, if the Conservatives win, things are set to get even worse. The Tories have pledged to hike the minimum income requirement for spousal visas even higher. Their pledge comes as settlement visa fees have also recently been increased from £1,195 to £1,464, and charges increased for even the most basic immigration services. It’s now going to cost £5.48 to send a single email to the UK Visas and Immigration service to get information for an application.

Some families had hope earlier this year when the Supreme Court was set to make a ruling on the legality of the minimum income requirement. But in February the Court upheld the income requirement, despite the hardship it causes to already vulnerable families, though it did urge more relaxed policies regarding alternative sources of funding as well as expanding the purview of immigration officers, empowering them to make decisions in full compliance with the Human Rights Act of 1998.

Now that the Court has validated the draconian immigration policies of the Conservatives, as we edge closer and closer to the UK’s departure from the EU, it is up to progressives to alleviate the burdens unfairly shouldered by Britain’s immigrant population. In its manifesto, Labour has bravely and rightly pledged to scrap the minimum income requirement altogether.

It’s not hard to see why. A minimum wage earner in the UK makes barely £13,000 annually, so for the threshold to be set so high and only taking into account the sponsor’s income is a grossly unjust policy. Its justification under May’s leadership is shrouded in what appears at first to be neutral economic arguments. But looking at the broader trajectory of the Conservatives’ policy undertakings, it is clear that these severe requirements are simply intended to squeeze immigration numbers as much as possible.

One of the appellants to the Supreme Court case, called MM, makes just over £15,000 in the UK, and his wife in Lebanon speaks fluent English, has a BSc in nutrition, and works as a pharmacist. Her job prospects in the UK are optimistic, and she would have little trouble integrating. However, they have not made an application for her settlement because of the high application fees and the likelihood of their rejection by the Home Office.

Theresa May and the Conservatives, as we approach the election, seem eager to crack down on all foreigners, including EU citizens, living in the UK who hope to bring their partners and children here to live. The Tories’ targeting of families is especially unfair as effective political mobilization is difficult when families are fragmented, earning low-wages, working multiple jobs, or caring for children.

Those committed to the protection of families must be the vanguard of the opposition to the Conservatives’ unjust immigration policies. It’s ironic that it should be the Labour Party emerging in this election as the champion of marriage and family values – principles that the Tories seem to have abandoned. To all those couples anxiously awaiting the election result, we send our solidarity. Progressives, in the wake of a tumultuous global election season, find themselves with many fronts to fight. But tackling these unfair rules is a cause we shall continue to fight for, whatever the election outcome.

Elise Francis is a Campaign Volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights

Labour’s manifesto 2017 – a human rights scorecard

At the beginning of the month, LCHR put forward our top 15 human rights priorities for the 2017 election manifesto, spanning Brexit and foreign affairs, immigration and asylum, human rights in counter-terrorism, legal protections, workers’ rights, and civil society & trade unions. Now, as the dust begins to settle from the launch of Labour’s keenly awaited official election manifesto, it’s time to comb over the pledges, promises and policies proposed and see how it measures up.

Brexit

In an election decidedly overcast by the heavy clouds of approaching Brexit negotiations, the manifesto understandably wastes no time in promising to alleviate the insecurities felt by individuals whose homes, livelihoods and human rights are left most vulnerable. Specifically addressed is the right of EU nationals to remain in the UK, a promise heavily seasoned with thinly veiled criticism of the prime minister’s attempts to flaunt the human rights of EU nationals over the heads of Brussels officials.

Also emphasised is a commitment to safeguard hard fought employment and equality rights and protections during and after Brexit, and a promise that trade unions, businesses and stakeholders will be closely involved in processes to ensure that there is no rolling back or falling behind the times in terms of the advancements on workers’ rights made in recent years.

Unnamed however is a commitment to avoiding the use of Henry VIII powers, which would allow for largely unscrutinised changes to EU law using delegated or secondary legislation. That said, Labour has made numerous commitments not to use these powers in the past.

Score: 4/5

Foreign policy

Giving human rights parity with strategic and commercial interests in foreign policy is a priority that LCHR has long advanced. Under a Conservative government, relations have been deepened with many human rights abusers notably Bahrain, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, and Turkey.

Labour’s manifesto focuses on advancing peaceful solutions and reinvigorating international institutions. Importantly, it pledges to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia until a UN-led investigation has reported on alleged violations of international law.

Score: 5/5

Immigration and asylum

Playing the numbers game with rates of immigration and asylum is wholly unacceptable. Reducing a myriad of individuals, each with complex lives, motivations and traumas, into sound bite statistics which are unlikely to be met is thankfully, a strategy that Labour has refrained from pursuing. Though the specifics of an immigration system under Labour is not fully disclosed within the manifesto, there is a clear acknowledgement that “bogus immigration targets” will not be tolerated. Instead, the party promises the creation of “fair rules and reasonable management of migration”. Though for many, in the wake of assurances from both major parties that freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union, this lack of clarity surrounding the specific form a new migration system could take, may cause some concern.

Most encouraging of all is the farewell Labour is keen to say to the controversial spousal income threshold of £18,600, a policy instrumentally separating families by stopping thousands of citizens from bringing their foreign partners to the UK.

Finally, the manifesto commits to ending the immoral and draconian practice of indefinite detention of asylum seekers.

Score: 4/5

Refugee protection

In addressing calls for a “humane refugee and asylum system”, the manifesto alludes to the sort of action required to improve the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers in this country. The pledge to “take our fair share of refugees” evokes the comforting image of a good first start. However, with scant reference to the egregious conditions forced upon refugees entering the UK, a sharp eye will need to remain on the evolution of such promises to ensure that aid and compassion for refugees and asylum seeks is not simply ‘left at the door’.

Score: 3/5

Human rights in counter-terrorism

Staunchly advocated by LCHR and therefore warmly welcomed within the manifesto, is a review of the Prevent program, a strategy aimed at thwarting extremism but which has in reality succeeded only in further alienating and excluding minorities from our society.

However, in order to properly strengthen a commitment to end discriminatory security and surveillance measures, more thought must be directed at the extent to which “providing our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe”, as promised in the manifesto, risks surveillance without suspicion which often unfairly penalises ethnic and religious minorities.

Score: 3/5

Legal protections

Nestled in the fray of concerns surrounding the UK’s exit from the European Union was Tory support for abandoning the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, a move that would reverse a long history of positive evolution in legal protections of human rights. Labour’s manifesto is unhindered in its ardent support of both protective frameworks, a position now suddenly mirrored in the recently published Conservative manifesto, which officially ruled out repealing or replacing the Human Rights Act “while the process of Brexit is under way”.

Furthermore, in many ways, the official Labour manifesto has gone further than its leaked predecessor. In the draft, it was merely stated that the party would “consider recommendations” to reinstate legal aid. However, a change in the language of the final draft states that the party “will consider the reinstatement of other legal aid entitlements after receiving the final recommendations of the Access to Justice Commission led by Lord Bach”, as well as fully reviewing the legal aid means tests, including the capital test for those on income-related benefits.

Score: 5/5

Workers’ rights, civil society and trade unions

There is a strong commitment to workers’ rights present in a myriad of the policies proposed, with promises to “reverse the unfair employment tribunal fees which literally price people out of justice”, also accompanied by a pledge to end the use of zero hours contracts. This is an important step in the direction of properly regulating the growing ‘gig economy’.

Finally, through promises to repeal both the Lobbying Act and Trade Union Act, we can see a strong desire to unpick the problems caused by misguided legislation advanced by the previous government, and sew back together a far more liberated and united civil society.

Score: 5/5

Total: 29/35

Overall, we at the Labour Campaign for Human Rights are very pleased with the manifesto. While the section on security and counter-terrorism didn’t include a commitment to address Britain’s illiberal mass surveillance regime, and while not all will be satisfied with the commitments on immigration and asylum, there’s plenty here for human rights activists to feel good about. We give the manifesto an A-, a big improvement on the C+ we gave to its predecessor in 2015.

Amy Fallon is a volunteer with the Labour Campaign for Human Rights