Dear Prime Minister
As you are aware, this year is the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, a year to celebrate Britain’s role as a guarantor of individual rights. Yet, as we celebrate this great landmark, the commitment to individual human rights now appears to be under threat.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted in 1948 – which Conservative politicians contributed to – enshrines:
Which of these rights do you not agree with?
- The right to life, liberty and security
- The right to a fair trial
- Protection from torture
- Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, speech and assembly
- The right to free elections
- The right not to be discriminated against
Defending the Human Rights Act and our membership of the European Convention on Human Rights is not straightforward because it often involves defending the rights of an unworthy individual from a legitimate authority, or the rights of an unpopular minority from a popular majority.
The Human Rights Act is always going to be a nuisance to those in power because it stops them getting on and doing things unconstrained. But there is an inherent susceptibility for those who have power to extend it, to over-reach and ultimately abuse it. And that is irrespective of how legitimate that power is, how they acquired that power and whether or not they think they are doing the right thing.
So it is right that government ministers should have to look over their shoulder and that their power is tempered by other people’s rights. And we do need to have our executive and our legislature set within a framework of human rights.
This is important to people’s human rights here in Britain and for the human rights of those in other countries. If we were to walk away from our international human rights treaty obligations, we would not be able to press other countries to respect human rights. We cannot say to others in Europe – particularly Eastern Europe – that they should stay within a European framework but that we have somehow outgrown it, or don’t need it anymore.
Human rights are part of, not at variance with, our British values and they matter for our place in the world.
We understand you have put your plans on hold for a year, while you work out exactly how you will go about the dismantling of our human rights laws.
We ask you today to abandon your plans entirely, and as a result of the public interest in this issue, will be releasing this letter to the media.
Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, Interim Leader of the Labour Party
Rt Hon Lord Charles Falconer QC, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
Andy Slaughter MP, Shadow Minister for Justice
Lord William Bach, Shadow Attorney General
Karl Turner MP, Shadow Solicitor General
Keir Starmer MP
Baroness Jean Corston, Former Chair of The Joint Committee on Human Right
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Kate O’Rourke, Senior Counsel, Chair of the Society of Labour Lawyers