A Guest Blog: Labour must stand up for the European Convention on Human Rights

From LCHR member James Greenwood:

The political landscape has changed greatly in the last year. The UK narrowly voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected as president of the United States. The world has become a much more illiberal place and the values which we in the Labour Party hold dear are under threat. Many Conservative politicians see this nationalistic, anti-European climate as the perfect storm under which to take the United Kingdom out of international agreements such as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Whilst still home secretary, Theresa May repeatedly voiced her dislike for the ECHR and in a speech last April, she declared that the UK should leave the ECHR, even if the UK voted to remain within the European Union.

The Labour Party must fight against the removal of the UK from the ECHR, which not only helps protect British citizens, but also helps promote international standards of equality, fairness and justice. The ECHR and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) which implements it currently provide 17 different articles relating to rights and freedoms. Amongst these are the right to life, prohibition of torture, the prohibition of slavery and forced labour, the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial, no punishment without law, the right to respect for private and family life, the right to participate in free elections and freedom of expression.

Since October 2000 and the implementation of The Human Rights Act (HRA), those protections can now be enforced in the UK. Rather than having to go to Strasbourg, an individual can go to their local court to argue that their human rights have been breached. However, the long awaited British Bill of Rights designed to replace the HRA could alter which protections UK citizens will have access to. By withdrawing from the ECHR and scrapping the HRA, Theresa May is systematically dismantling human rights provisions in the UK.

In the confusion of the UK leaving the European Union, it would be easy for the Labour Party to concentrate its efforts solely on other important areas such as immigration and NHS staffing, and neglect the potential impact that leaving the ECHR could have on our country. It is essential that this does not happen. The Human Rights Act guarantees rights that benefit all UK citizens and assists in the key Labour Party goal of building a better country for its people to live in. It is not there only to serve the interests of Islamic extremists and prison inmates, as some Conservative MPs would like us to believe, but provides the framework upon which our peaceful, considerate society is built.

In front of the ECtHR in Strasbourg there is a piece of the Berlin Wall which serves as a reminder that not so long ago many countries across our continent weren’t united by the human rights which we share today. The repressive Assad dictatorship in Syria and the ongoing civil war is evidence of the extreme consequences of a government ignoring or undermining human rights. Furthermore, many people around the world are being imprisoned for campaigning for the very same rights which we enjoy through our membership of the ECHR. If we do not fight to retain those rights, they will be taken away from us and the Labour Party will have failed not only its members, but the people of our country.

 

 

Article 50 And EU Nationals’ Right To Remain

Today we released our latest briefing, Article 50 and EU Nationals’ Right to Remain.

This briefing, which was sent to all Labour MPs, covers the implications of the recent vote in the House of Lords on amendment 9b to the Article 50 bill. It outlines the reasons that Labour MPs should support EU nationals’ right to remain and recommends that all MPs join the House of Lords and vote to add amendment 9b to Article 50 or vote against the bill.

Public Protection Order

We were concerned to see reports this week about the public spaces protection order in Rochdale and wrote to Rochdale Labour Group to express concern about two aspects in particular – banning swear words and prohibiting under 18s from entering the town centre at certain times.

lettertorochdale

View the letter in pdf format here.

What now in Syria?

The Fabian Society International Policy Group are hosting an event in the House of Lords on 27th February at 18:30. 

What began as a peaceful uprising against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad six years ago has now became a full-scale civil war. The war has left thousands of people dead and millions more refugees.

The intervention of regional and world powers, including Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States has been a key factor for the continuation of the war. Their military, financial and political support for the government and opposition has contributed directly to the intensification and continuation of the fighting, and turned Syria into a proxy battleground.

With a failed peace process and continuing humanitarian crisis, we ask what is happening now in Syria and how should the UK be responding?

Full details here.

Implications of the Watson CJEU judgement on data surveillance

In 2014 David Davis MP (who subsequently withdrew from the case upon becoming Brexit Secretary) and Tom Watson MP brought a legal case challenging the compatibility of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) with EU law. The case went to the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and eventually the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which reached a final judgement in December 2016.

LCHR have produced a briefing which covers the implications of that final judgement. It sets out the main areas in which the judgement declares UK law to be incompatible with EU law, notably around blanket data retention, the threshold for the seriousness of crimes that warrant data surveillance, and the lack of notification if surveillance has been conducted in error. It also highlights the possible consequences for the recent Investigatory Powers Act.

LCHR recommends that Labour press for the government to amend the Investigatory Powers Act to uphold the CJEU’s judgement.

Amendments should:

• Replace provisions for blanket surveillance with targeted surveillance only.

• Raise the threshold for access to data so that it can only be used to investigate serious crimes.

• Include a notification system for people who have been subjected to surveillance.

 

Click here to read the briefing in full.

New Campaigns 2017!

Following a very successful members consultation at the end of 2016 and some wider discussion with our advisory board and civil society, we are pleased to announce three new campaigns:

Refugees and Immigration

 Amid growing anti-immigrant sentiment, we will be working to tackle discrimination in the immigration and asylum systems and ensure that immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees are treated fairly and humanely.

Following the Brexit vote, we will also be working to protect the rights of EU residents currently living in the UK, including their residency rights, employment rights, and their access to healthcare and education.

It is crucial that we put pressure on the government in this heated political environment and do not let them ignore the rights of those who need our help the most.

Human rights in counter-terrorism

Following the passage of the Investigatory Powers Act in 2016 and amid the government’s efforts to develop an effective counter-extremism strategy, LCHR will be using this campaign to stimulate a debate among Labour members, MPs and civil society on how to balance security with human rights.

Today, counter-terrorism and counter-extremism programmes allow security services unprecedented access to our personal communications data. Meanwhile, the controversial Prevent programme has not only interfered with human rights, but alienated large sections of UK society, fostering an atmosphere of mistrust and surveillance in schools, nurseries and within wider society. Our campaign will be inclusive of all of these elements.

The Human Rights Act

The Conservatives have pledged to repeal the HRA and have threatened to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. We are campaigning to equip the Labour Party with the best possible defence of the HRA and ECHR to ensure your rights and privileges are protected.

The ECHR and HRA have given critical protection to people facing all sorts of challenging circumstances. In Britain they have been used to help women fleeing domestic violence, stop cases of modern day slavery, ensure equal treatment for LGBT people, prevent older people from being separated from their husbands and wives in care, stop discrimination in the workplace, and maintain the ban on corporal punishment in schools.

Since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act of 2012, the government has been chipping away at the types of legal aid that are available to the most vulnerable in society. The types of cases no longer included are some family cases, education cases which do not involve special educational needs, most debt matters, welfare benefits cases that don’t reach the Upper Tribunal, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court and many cases involving employment and homelessness. We will be campaigning to protect legal aid amid these cuts.

We’re hugely excited to get started on our new campaigns and will have more details on upcoming projects and events to follow. For details on how to get involved in any of our campaigns email rachel.finnegan@lchr.org.uk

CLP motion passed by Camborne, Redruth & Hayle

Labour activists in Camborne, Redruth & Hayle have this week passed a CLP motion in response to the government’s invasive Investigatory Powers Bill. The bill, passed in November of last year, forces internet and communications companies to collect and store everyone’s personal communications data, such as information about who we email, which websites we visit, and where we are when we send messages. It also allows the government to hack into our phones and computers, and could be used to force companies providing secure messaging, such as Whatsapp, to remove encryptions designed to protect our privacy.

Members were rightly concerned that the wide reaching legislation gives surveillance powers to too many government agencies and that these should be reserved for the most serious cases where there is already a reasonable level of suspicion. Activists resolved that the Labour Party should work to ensure the right balance between privacy and security and take forward plans for a Charter of Digital Rights that protects both.

You can read the motion in full here.