No, I will not stop shitting bricks over the repeal of the Human Rights Act

It’s worth caring about

conservatives human rights act immigration politics

Recently, Vica Germanova published an article telling us to all calm our shit over the planned replacement of the Human Rights Act by the Tory government.

The Student Left, she tells us, accuse the Tories of wanting to turn the country into a “brainwashed, corrupt, fascist dictatorship”, and do away with our rights to “fair trial, education, free speech, and even life”.

Student Left in their natural habitat

The Student Left in their natural habitat

Yeah, some people overreacted. But that’s not all the Student Left says. Obviously, the Tories (probably) aren’t going to re-introduce serfdom or impose a fascist dictatorship, even if they are all lizard monsters. But to say that’s the only criticism of the British Bill of Rights is a straw man. Losing the Human Rights Act is worth shitting a few bricks about.

Let’s clear up a couple of myths: the Tory’s are not planning to replace the Act because they want to leave the EU. The two aren’t linked. We’ve been a part of the European Commission of Human Rights since 1952. The EU encourages it’s member states to adhere to the ECHR, but doesn’t force them to.

Is it because they constantly interfere with our judicial process? Well, perhaps, but between 1952 and 2013 the ECHR only found a problem with 300 cases.

In reality, it’s a lot about government taking back power from the law.

He's coming for your rights

He’s coming for your rights

Let’s start with the article. Vica is right in saying that our rights will not change a great deal if the European Commission of Human Rights is dropped. If they’re not really going to change, why bother to change it at all?

Vica says: “The only people who will be directly affected by the proposed changes will be terrorists and immigrants.” The bloody Europeans are getting in the way of our ability to deport immigrants.

She gives us an example: an illegal immigrant, driving sans license, hit a child with his car and ’left her to die like a dog”. Attempts to have him deported were hindered by the ECHR on the grounds that, since he’d had two children in the UK, deportation would rob them of their right to a father.

It is hard to imagine how you could drive away from another person to try and save your own skin, instead of stopping to do everything you could to help them. Sadly it is surprisingly common. London alone sees over 80 hit and run crimes every single week. Every year, about 8 people are killed on London’s roads in these circumstances.

How do you punish a crime like that?

The pain caused to the victim and their family is immense. At the same time, it isn’t a malicious crime, but an accident. Judges have to balance these two things. Their guidelines allow them to impose the maximum sentence for manslaughter, Life Imprisonment.

Guess what isn’t in the guidelines? Deportation and probable execution.

While he was an illegal immigrant, he committed a crime on British soil to a British person. Such a crime ought surely to warrant a British punishment. Yes, a prison sentence of 4 months is too short. But deportation to a country from which you were seeking Asylum, Kurdish Iraq (a return to which might actually result in the death penalty) doesn’t count as a “British Punishment”.

The whole fucking point in the law is that it can be impersonally applied to everyone. Laws about deporting illegal immigrants are separate to laws about hit-and-runs. Seems reasonable.

The Human Rights Act is more British than any British Bill of Rights

That’s one of the many glaring things wrong with Vica’s article. Her case study is wrong, but that isn’t in itself a cause for brick-shitting. But the Tory announcement that “there will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged” might well be.

Vica argues that the Human Rights Act stops governments from fulfilling their most important task, keeping their citizens safe. This is naïve. The government will go to horrific extents in the name of “safety” – Guantanamo Bay, returning suspects to other countries where torture is permitted, arrest without trial. International Human Rights are the citizen’s way of holding their governments to account on things like this.

Frankly, the notion that if you go “below the threshold” as a terror suspect you can lose your human rights is terrifying, because anyone can be a terror suspect. Even you, comfortable Cambridge student.

The idea that Human Rights are not absolute, that they can be negotiated by the very government you want to hold to account – that’s something worth shitting bricks about.