Second World War – (post 1945) inspired many people to think that measures should be taken to prevent such brutality from ever recurring.
UN charter – commitment to the promotion of Human Rights (1945) – Declaration of Human Rights and two International Covenants (eg. cultural and social rights)
European Union – ensures rights are respected, but problems have occurred because national laws are differ (eg. non-recognition of qualifications)
Council of ministers – empowered to take appropriate action to combat discrimination, such as sex, age and religion. (Primarily the decision making body of the EU)
European – Commission (decisions and represents general interest of the EU), Parliament (receives reports from commission and holds debates and question time – strong defended of women’s rights) and Court of Justice (highest court of the European Union.
European Convention and the Human Rights Act – drawn up mainly by British Lawyers, should not be confused with the European Union. Massively important in protecting rights within the UK. Contents of Convention and Act are such as – right to life and freedom of expression. Human Rights Act abolish death penalty in UK law and judges are allowed to apply rights in their rulings.
Parliamentary sovereignty – have unlimited power to change or amend any law, without challenge from any other UK body or institution.
Human Rights Act – makes it unlawful for any public body to act in a way that is incompatible with the convention, unless a wording of an Act of Parliament means they have no choice. Requires UK judges to take account decisions and legislation in a manner compatible with the convention.
Impact of Human Rights legislation – new human rights culture into British politics. Where rights conflict, such as privacy verses freedom of information, judges decide where the balance lies. For example, in 2000, there was a case where two men were photographed on a speed camera and the police sent a form to identify who was driving the vehicle during that time. The protested under the HRA, claiming they couldn’t be required to give evidence against themselves. The initial judgement was in their favour, yet later this ruling was reversed. However, it has been said that the Act has changed the outcome of very few cases.
Anti-terrorist legislation – the British government responded to the attacks of the 9/11 by rushing through emergency legislation to increase the government’s power to deal with suspects of those planning/assisting terrorist attacks within the UK in 2001. This was amended, via the Prevention of Terrorism Act (2005) – with orders applying to UK and foreign nationals. This was still argued to be against the right to liberty and a fair trial.
The Data Protection Act (1998) – gives individuals rights to access their personal information held on file by all private and public institutions and to have mistakes in data made correct. Sets out rules/regulations to make sure that the information is handled properly – handling, obtaining and disclosure. Individuals may also seek compensation and opt out of having data used for direct marketing. It should be processed fairly and lawfully, accurate and kept up to date (when necessary), and not kept longer than necessary for that/those purposes. Can be refused if costs exceed certain amount.
Powers of Information Commissioner over data protection – such as conducting assessments to check organizations are complying with the Act, requiring organization to provide the office with specific information over a time period and prosecuting those who commit criminal offense under the Act.
The Freedom of Information Act (2000) – broader statutory right to information or records held by government and public authorities (eg. central and local government, police, education). Reason does not have to be given by asker, but valid reason must be given if the information is not disclosed. Includes commercial and national security. Can be refused if time and costs exceed certain amount. Example – Brown government were ordered to release the Cabinet discussion about military action against Iraq. Public requests for information have fallen to the lowest since the law was passed.
MPs have attempted to water down effectiveness of the act to avoid embarrassing disclosures, such as detailed information about MPs expenses. However, they did not find a sponsor in the House of Lords.
Example of information not given – Royal family in exempt from the act as it would be a potential threat to royal security.
Rights not covered by the Human Rights Act include:
Consumer rights – such as protection of health and safety and banning sale of those that jeopardise them and granting the right to full information about goods or services. However, some of the protection derives from the European Union.
Welfare rights – universal (eg. education and healthcare) and means tested (eg. welfare benefits or disability benefits)
The right to defend oneself – permitting a person to use reasonable force to defend himself/protect another person from attack or to defend his property.
Case Study – Tony Martin shot two burglars in 1999 where one died. He claimed it to be self-defence. He was found guilty of murder and given life sentence. However, this was changed to manslaughter due to personality disorder. However, he had been known for comments against gypsies and burglars of which the sixteen-year old boy was both.