• Robert Spicer

Human rights under threat

Human rights under threat

It has been reported that the Minister of Justice aims to amend the Human Rights Act 1998. The Act incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK domestic law. The scope of the amendments is unclear, but they may include limiting the powers of courts to enforce the Act.

In the meantime, Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court judge, is reported to have commented as follows:

· The Act should be repealed because it is dangerous for democracy

· It will be impossible for ministers to make significant changes to human rights law while the European Convention is part of UK law

· The European Convention is fundamentally undemocratic

· The European Court of Human Rights had gratuitously expanded the scope of the Convention to include areas outside its jurisdiction, for example war zones. These were wholly unsuitable environments for the application of elaborate Eurocentric schemes of human rights law.

My own view is that the Human Rights Act should be amended. Such amendment should increase, rather than restrict, its scope. The Act deals, essentially, with individual, civil and political, rather than collective human rights. It does not cover social and economic rights.

Chronic underdevelopment, grinding poverty, mass unemployment, homelessness, illiteracy, systematic inequalities of income and opportunities and lack of healthcare can be seen as gross violations of human rights. Poverty is not simply a matter of material deprivation. It is a matter of human dignity, justice, fundamental freedoms and basic human rights.

The post-apartheid South African constitution sets out a number of social and economic rights. It has been described as the most progressive Constitution in the world. For example:

· Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing

· Everyone has the right to have access to healthcare.

· The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of these rights.

Whether the current Minister of Justice will amend the Human Rights Act along these lines remains to be seen. On a scale of unlikeliness from 1 to 10, the chances of such amendment are negatively off the scale. Further, whether the Minister is aware of the social and economic rights set out in the South African constitution may be a matter for speculation.

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