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Repeal of Human Rights Act would create ‘two-tier protection system’

Government intent on weakening minorities’ human rights protection, says Liberty director

22 March 2017

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Successive governments have conducted a ‘very effective spin project’ to imply human rights protection is just for terrorists and sex offenders, director of Liberty Martha Spurrier said at the launch of a new human rights awareness programme at Brunel University London.

In a video interview with the law school’s programme director Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, Spurrier explained that, compared to the emotional attachment many Americans feel with their constitution’s rights protection, many Brits have failed to embrace and understand the Human Rights Act because of anti-HRA rhetoric from the government and elements of the media.

Spurrier, who succeeded Baroness Shami Chakrabarti as Liberty’s director in 2016, argues that by committing to repeal the HRA, the prime minister is intent on creating a ‘two-tier human rights system’, where British-born citizens are provided a better standard of protection than their foreign-born counterparts.

In a speech to Brunel students and staff on 14 March the Doughty Street Chambers’ barrister, campaigner, and NGO director also emphasised that a replacement British Bill of Rights will dilute protection for everyone, and that anyone who believes otherwise is ‘very, very, naive’.

While the official Leave EU campaign had committed to protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK as well as those of Brits in Europe, Spurrier and Brunel University academics have expressed disappointment that Theresa May has offered no reassurance that this will happen.

Spurrier explained that May’s view is ‘in stark contrast’ to that of her party and that of the British public: ‘It is really disappointing that parliament has not stood up to her and made sure their rights are protected.

‘It’s absolutely right that there will be legal claims and that we can expect – as the uncertainty continues and people are left in this really terrible state of limbo – people who have settled here and have families here, they will look to the [HRA] to make sure that their family life rights are protected.’

May is opposed to the European Convention on Human Rights overall and is the first prime minister to openly argue that the UK should leave the convention, Spurrier explained.

‘I don’t think you can really underestimate how serious that is. We have never had a prime minister who has criticised the convention. We’ve had plenty of people talk about whether the [HRA] could be improved…

‘But to go even further and say that actually we should pull out of that post World War II settlement which is the [ECHR]… that’s a very radical departure from previous policy. We don’t think that’s a departure that’s supported by the Conservative party and we think it will be incredibly controversial if it goes into the [2020] manifesto. That’s the next big fight I think.’

It is a policy generated by May’s time as home secretary, said Spurrier, where issues of immigration and deportation struggles – particularly that of radical cleric Abu Qatada – ‘dogged’ her time in office.

‘She is determined to get her own back, effectively,’ Spurrier added. ‘It really stuck in her craw… As a result she’s intent on weakening rights protections, particularly for minority groups.’

This year Brunel Law School and the University’s Britain in Europe think tank have introduced a new research project, Knowing our Rights, directed by Dr Giannoulopoulos. The programme aims to educate and encourage debate among the UK public, with a focus on UK’s 16 to 18-year-olds, on the HRA and the European Convention on Human Rights, and what they mean for the British public.

Offering her support to the project, Spurrier said: ‘Awareness-raising about human rights is essential, and this project is really, really important, particularly in times like these.’

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