Leading human rights organisation Amnesty International has accused the government of ‘downgrading human rights’ in its annual report.
In the group’s 2014/15 review, Amnesty analyses the state of human rights around the world, and its UK director warns that the UK was setting a ‘dangerous precedent to the world’ an was particularly critical of the proposed repeal of the 1998 Human RIghts Act.
‘People around the world are still fighting to get basic human rights and we should not let politicians take our hard-won rights away with the stroke of a pen,’ commented Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen. You can read the report here.
In response, Justice Minister Dominic Raab said that Amnesty had already been told the plans included the UK staying within the European Convention and that their ‘scaremongering undermines their own credibility’.
The organisation’s annual report highlighted developments, positive and negative, in the UK and around the world. UK resident Shaker Aamer was released from Guantanamo Bay detention camp in October 2015 having been held for 13 years without charge. It also highlighted the work of UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls who identified pockets of good practice in the UK but a lack of a consistent and coherent human rights-based approach in the government’s response to violence against women. The government announced a £3.2 million domestic abuse fund in August 2015 but Amnesty remained concerned by cuts to specialist services.
More proposed government legislation came under fire, warning that the Trade Union Bill, if passed, would significantly weaken trade union rights. The government say they aim to reform union activity by raising the threshold for strike ballots and to improve transparency and oversight. Critics of the bill warn that by allowing employers to replace striking staff with agency workers and changing the rules for strikes will mean workers will lose their collective power and pay and working conditions will decline as a result.
Amnesty has been involved in some of the many challenges to the existing Investigatory Powers Act 2014 to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). This secret court allows for the government and security services to present evidence to the judges without the public, or other parties to the case, seeing it. Even the judgments handed down by the tribunal can be in secret. However, in 2015 the IPT made a number of rulings that the current legislative framework for surveillance was unlawful. It found that the Government Communication Headquarters was illegally spying on Amnesty International (confusingly, having previously named a different organisation as the victim of the surveillance).
Amnesty also highlighted reports on the use of immigration detention, including the Court of Appeal ruling against the Detained Fast Track scheme (which the government argued was an efficient way to process asylum applications, detaining claimants while they had seven days to prepare an appeal to a refusal of asylum) but which senior judges found to be ‘systematically unfair and unjust’.
The organisation also raised concerns that the government continues to oppose sharing responsibility between all EU nations for the increase in refugees arriving in Europe.
However it continues to be the Human Rights Act repeal which grabs the headlines. The Bill of Rights has been the cause of debate and criticism since the Conservative Party achieved a majority government, which is unlikely to die down when the Bill is finally published.
Joanna is a civil liberties solicitor with a background in challenging police misconduct and inquests following deaths in custody