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Sonya Sceats: Right for You, Right for Us?

Sonya Sceats, an Associate Fellow in International Law at Chatham House, has a new article about human rights legislation in the United Kingdom. Download the full paper here; see excerpt below:

The Human Rights Act, incorporating into law most of the rights in the European Convention on Human Rights, was adopted by parliament in 1998. Compared with other countries, where the arrival of human rights laws is usually greeted jubilantly by the press and public, this was in many ways a silent achievement. The Act was not a result of popular demands, or even a consultation process, and there was little public debate. At the time, the Labour government chose not to create a statutory body to promote the legislation and support its implementation by public authorities. Looking back, this was fatal. Ministers announced that the Act was designed to foster a broad culture of respect for human rights, but no ‘guardian’ body would show how this could be done. … The public has never been helped to understand that the prohibition of torture, blamed for frustrating counter-terrorism and immigration policies, is the same human right that bans corporal punishment of children in school and degrading treatment of older people in care homes. In this climate of security fears and poor understanding of human rights, there is a very real risk that the British public will unintentionally trade away the human rights that have defined British democracy and made this country such an attractive place to live. Internationally, this would be disastrous for Britain’s reputation as a human rights defender. It would also set a dangerous precedent for other states grappling with terrorism, signalling, arguably, the ultimate concession to terrorist demands.