Human Rights in the UK have a long history woven into our unwritten constitution which includes protection in the courts for the citizen against the State. They have, however, never had fully independent Legal status and enforcement as they do now, under the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998. The HRA has ensured successful protection in countless cases, from holding the government accountable for spying on us, to giving resolution to grieving families of Hillsborough. Passed by Parliament under Labour, it incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 (ECHR) into British law.

The ECHR contains provisions which include protection for life, freedom from torture, right to a fair trial, right to liberty, right to privacy, and freedom of conscience, expression and assembly. The UK has been a signatory of the Convention since 1950, but the HRA has allowed citizens to directly remedy any breach of their rights through UK courts. It has also made it illegal for any state authority to act in contravention of the ECHR - this includes local councils and ministerial departments. In addition, the EU has adopted the ECHR provisions - among others such as workers' rights - as a fundamental part of EU law under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which allows direct implementation in the Member States.

The Human Rights Act and the EU Charter under threat

In the increasing isolationist climate, the Conservative government has proposed to repeal the HRA in order to replace it with a British Bill of Rights, however, they have given minimal information regarding what the Bill will contain. The House of Lords EU Justice Committee has questioned why a new Bill is at all necessary, as it remains unclear whether citizens will be allowed the same level of enforcement as currently under the HRA.

Under Brexit, as part of the European Union (Withdrawl) Bill - repealing the European Communities Act 1972 which allows for our membership of the EU and the functioning of EU law in Britain - the government also intends to exclude the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This would remove the foundation safeguarding citizen rights under EU law.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have thus made the Charter a key requirement in deciding whether to vote for the Bill. Legal experts have also questioned the government's intention to transfer the entire body of EU law into UK law. It is a Herculean task which the government is citing as a basis to allow itself unregulated and unscrutinised legislative powers to make and unmake laws in the name of ensuring efficient transfer and continuity. MPs and campaigners are concerned about the scope of these 'Henry VIII' powers, which will continue to operate for two years after Brexit. The troubling aspect is that Parliament will not be given an opportunity to scrutinise the legislative changes made - fundamentally circumventing democracy, which is the basis of all our rights.

Fighting the trend

As the trend towards marginalisation of human rights in Britain increases, organisations such as Liberty and Amnesty International are asking the public to join the fight to save our Human Rights Act. According to Rights Info, leading members of the Conservative party have also highlighted their disagreement with government plans in a public report by the think tank Bright Blue, documenting instead the historic championing of human rights by the party.

Justice has proven that it is only the protection offered by the shift - following events of WWII - to valuing human rights as legally paramount that have allowed so many British citizens safe keeping under the law as a shield and sword.