A poster campaign to save the Human Rights Act went live today, as ministers promised to ‘fast-track’ a British Bill of Rights by next summer. Some £55,000 costs has been raised through crowd-funding for the Act for the Act initiative set up by barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Martha Spurrier, and journalist Fiona Bawdon. ‘This is the first time anyone has mounted a mass, grassroots campaign to tell the stories of ordinary people who have been helped by the Human Rights Act,’ the group said.
The Independent on Sunday yesterday revealed that there would be a 12-week public consultation on the Bill of Rights beginning next month. Apparently, many ministers want the Bill to be law ‘before the EU in/out referendum’.
According to the paper:
‘Although the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is separate from Britain’s EU membership, the two issues are often linked in the minds of the public and some Eurosceptics. Ministers think it would be better to settle the issue before the referendum campaigns get going.’
The campaign is a direct response to the Government’s election manifesto which pledged to ‘scrap’ the Human Rights Act and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. They also promised to limit the role of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), although there was no mention of withdrawal from it.
Act for the Act has commissioned a series of billboards which will appear in towns and cities around the country telling the stories of real people who needed the Human Rights Act when something went wrong in their lives. The posters will also appear on buses – including in Justice Secretary, Michael Gove’s constituency – and at most London tube stations.
The posters tell the story of real life people including Jan Sutton, diagnosed with MS in 1995, whose carers left her in bed all day. Jan relied upon article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to private and family life) to get proper care so she could get her dignity back.
Martina Brincat-Baines, whose worries about their 17-year-old daughter’s mental health were repeatedly ignored and subsequently used article 8 to ensure parents’ voices have to be heard, said:
‘I thought the Human Rights Act was for other people. I didn’t think it was anything to do with me. But when my daughter Kesia died, I suddenly needed the Human Rights Act. I was able to use it to get the law changed to make sure other vulnerable young people are better protected in future – and that’s why my family is wholeheartedly supporting this campaign.’
The Government is planning to fast-track the creation of a British Bill of Rights, aiming to get the hotly contested legislation on to the statute books by next summer. Act for the Act have therefore asked their supporters to join the people featured in the posters in signing a letter to the Justice Secretary urging him to save the Act
This launch comes on the same day that the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee announced a new inquiry into the impact on EU law of a UK decision to repeal the Human Rights Act. The Committee will investigate the issues that this policy might raise for the UK’s relationship with the EU, and for its obligations under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, in order to inform the political and public debate.
Alex Cisneros is a barrister practising out of No5 Chambers. He specialises in public law