The Human Rights Act gets a lot of bad press and is slated by many people.The media have their own agenda to slate the act. Most of the people who criticise the Human Rights Act have little understanding of what it is or what it does.
Barely a day goes by without the act being blamed for something or other. The last week or so, it has been in the news over the proposed eviction of illegal occupants at Dale Farm in Basildon
The story is reported on the BBC at Dale Farm Evictions and elsewhere on their website. Basically, Dale Farm is a site for “travellers” which has planning permission for around 50 pitches. Initially there were 50 families there, but others have moved in and in breach of planning legislation have settled the land. They have applied for planning permission and that has been removed.
As is the case with most people, when buildings are erected without planning permission, the council take enforcement action. Many people have had their homes demolished as a result of not obtaining planning permission.
However, this group of illegal occupants are claiming that to evict them would be in breach of their “human rights”. Apparently it is also racist to insist they obey the same laws as the rest of us.
So is the human rights act going to prevent these evictions and does it give these travellers the right to ignore the law.?
Well so far, the courts have steadfastly said no it doesn’t and I have to say I agree. If these travellers are allowed to stay on the site then it is rewarding the illegal actions of the travellers who do not have planning permission. (NB this only applies to the illegal occupants, not the legal ones). Effectively we would be saying there is no need t obtain planning permission as you can just ignore any refusals and restrictions on the same.
Quite what the EU and the UN think are breaches of the travellers human rights is beyond me. However, I suspect that they are making a similar mistake that others make and are forgetting that rights under the Human Rights Act are a balancing act between the rights of the individual and the wider society. For example, I have the right of free speech, but this is limited in that I am rightly not allowed to incite others to commit violence or to make race hatred type speeches.
In a similar way, the rights of these travellers have to be balanced against the rights of society at large.
So what are the rights under the Human Rights Act?
- The right to life – protects your life, by law. The state is required to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody.
The prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment – you should never be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way, no matter what the situation.
Protection against slavery and forced labour – you should not be treated like a slave or subjected to forced labour.
The right to liberty and freedom – you have the right to be free and the state can only imprison you with very good reason – for example, if you are convicted of a crime.
The right to a fair trial and no punishment without law – you are innocent until proven guilty. If accused of a crime, you have the right to hear the evidence against you, in a court of law.
Respect for privacy and family life and the right to marry – protects against unnecessary surveillance or intrusion into your life. You have the right to marry and raise a family.
Freedom of thought, religion and belief – you can believe what you like and practise your religion or beliefs.
Free speech and peaceful protest – you have a right to speak freely and join with others peacefully, to express your views.
No discrimination – everyone’s rights are equal. You should not be treated unfairly – because, for example, of your gender, race, sexuality, religion or age.
Protection of property, the right to an education and the right to free elections – protects against state interference with your possessions; means that no child can be denied an education and that elections must be free and fair.
Can you disagree with those rights? They are the basic rights that we are all entitled to. These are rights that any right thinking person would support.
The problem comes in the way the courts have interpreted claims brought citing human rights. As I mention above, it seems that in most of the controversial cases, the courts have failed to see the wood for the trees and missed the position of the wider society.
Finally, Liberty have produced a very good article on the HUMAN RIGHTS ACT MYTHS which is worth a read before you start to slate a very important piece of legislation. A good number of our politicians could do with learning what the Human Rights Act is before slating it and calling for reform, unless of course they don’t want people to have freedom to question their actions