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Chairman of East London Humanists Paul Kaufman on Human Rights

PUBLISHED: 10:11 03 June 2015

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I wonder how many of those who voted Conservative at the election gave much thought to their pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act? The policy is tucked away in a single paragraph on page 60 of the Tory manifesto.

Some people may believe their assertion that the Act is a piece of Labour mischief and that it places us at the mercy of the European Court. However, the Act was enacted with all party support, and our courts have only ever had to “take account” of Strasbourg judgements. The government can, and frequently does, depart from them. One such case is votes for prisoners.

The Human Rights Act has had a vital role in promoting justice and fairness and there are, for example, many in east London who have fled oppression who can be thankful for its strictures on torture.

There are good reasons to fear the scrapping of the Act. Can we really trust these powerful politicians to choose a better set of rights than those we already have? Just look at their track record. The Coalition drastically curtailed the right to challenge the government and other decision making bodies by judicial review. They slashed access to justice for ordinary people by decimating the legal aid system and multiplying the cost of bringing and defending proceedings.

And when is anyone going to be held accountable for the part this country played in the illegal practice of extraordinary rendition? No doubt the government will claim to have a democratic mandate to proceed with their plans. Under the first past the post system they do have the right to force through legislation, even though they enjoyed the votes of just 24 per cent of the electorate.

However, they would do well to listen to those across the political spectrum, including in their own party, who urge caution.

For if the government succeeds with its plans then we will join the company of, and give comfort to, all those rotten nations who also find it inconvenient to comply with internationally accepted standards of human rights.

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