Potted History of Human Rights in the UK

In 1688 a Bill of Rights was enacted after the Glorious Revolution that got rid of James II and enthroned William of Orange at the request of English parliamentarians.

This set out various protections for citizens and limited the power of the monarchy.

In 1998 the Human Rights Act specified how the European Convention of Human Rights would be applied in UK law. Breaches of the convention could then be ruled on by our courts rather than the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Human rights may be defined as universal legal guarantees that belong to all human beings and that protect individuals and groups from actions and omissions that affect fundamental human dignity (Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights)

What rights does the Human Rights Act protect?

  • The right to life – protects your life, by law. The state is required to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody;
  • The prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment – you should never be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way, no matter what the situation;
  • Protection against slavery and forced labour – you should not be treated like a slave or subjected to forced labour;
  • The right to liberty and freedom – you have the right to be free and the state can only imprison you with very good reason – for example, if you are convicted of a crime;
  • The right to a fair trial and no punishment without law – you are innocent until proven guilty. If accused of a crime, you have the right to hear the evidence against you, in a court of law;
  • Respect for privacy and family life and the right to marry – protects against unnecessary surveillance or intrusion into your life. You have the right to marry and raise a family;
  • Freedom of thought, religion and belief – you can believe what you like and practise your religion or beliefs;
  • Free speech and peaceful protest – you have a right to speak freely and join with others peacefully, to express your views;
  • No discrimination – everyone’s rights are equal. You should not be treated unfairly – because, for example, of your gender, race, sexuality, religion or age;
  • Protection of property, the right to an education and the right to free elections – protects against state interference with your possessions; means that no child can be denied an education and that elections must be free and fair.

Which of these rights will be altered by the proposed Bill of Rights?

Now that Cameron has reshuffled his cabinet and Gove is the new Justice Minister, we should be allowed to read what changes the government wants to make to basic human rights in the UK.

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