Concerns raised over UK disregard for human rights


  By a Newsnet reporter

SNP MP Pete Wishart has expressed his “deep concern” over comments by UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling which Mr Wishart believes shows the failure of the Conservative led UK government to grasp the concept of human rights law.

Mr Grayling was recently quoted saying that non UK-nationals arriving in the UK should not be able to ‘cite their human rights’.  His Conservative government colleague Theresa May, the home secretary, is reportedly working on proposals to scrap the Act which will be included in the Conservative manifesto for the next Westminster General Election.

Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Grayling said:

“We cannot go on with a situation where people who are a threat to our national security, or who come to Britain and commit serious crimes, are able to cite their human rights when they are clearly wholly unconcerned for the human rights of others … We need a dramatically curtailed role for the European court of human rights in the UK.”

The comments follow Mr Grayling’s admission that he could not conceive of a situation where a majority Conservative government would not repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights.

The Human Rights Act and the ability of UK citizens and residents to take appeals to the European Court of Human Rights has received considerable criticism in parts of the UK media and the Conservative party, who claim that the Act has ushered in a regime of “political correctness” and who have focussed on a small number of high-profile cases involving foreign prisoners and detainees.  

The effect of the UK Human Rights Act 1998 was to make the rights specified in the European Convention of Human Rights enforceable in UK courts.  The act is described in official Ministry of Justice information releases as “the most important piece of constitutional legislation passed in the United Kingdom since the achievement of universal suffrage in 1918” and gives UK citizens and residents protection against abuses of civil rights and personal freedoms by state and governmental authorities.  

The Ministry of Justice defines human rights as fundamental rights and freedoms which “belong to all individuals regardless of their nationality and citizenship”.  Despite this, Mr Grayling and the Conservative party seek to strip non-UK citizens of the exercise of these rights.

However the Conservative party appears split on the issue, and political opponents have suggested that proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act represent another instance of Prime Minister David Cameron pandering to the right wing of his party.  The suggestion has also been seen as a response to the drubbing received by the Conservative candidate in last week’s Eastleigh by-election when the party was beaten into third place by Ukip.

Leading figures on the liberal wing of the Conservatives have voiced their disapproval of the move.  Speaking on BBC Radio 4 last week, former Conservative Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke said:

“In today’s highly tempestuous, tabloid newspaper-dominated world, with a lynch mob every week for somebody or other, you need a convention on human rights, you need to be able to apply it, particularly, unfortunately, when unpopular individuals being campaigned against in the newspapers are being pursued by officials or somebody. That’s what the convention of human rights is for.”

Mr Clarke added that withdrawal from the convention would destroy Britain’s ability to pressure other European countries, including Russia, to observe human rights legislation.

The SNP argue that only Scottish independence can guarantee the human rights of citizens and residents of Scotland, which will continue to be threatened in the UK while Ukip is a significant political force south of the border and the Conservative party moves further to the right.  Although the Conservatives are now a minor party in Scotland, and Ukip’s support in Scotland is insignificant, politics in the UK are increasingly being driven by the dynamic between Ukip and the Conservative right, both of whom attract considerable support in English elections.    

Commenting for the SNP, Pete Wishart MP said:

“Grayling’s comments, that non-UK nationals should not be able to ‘cite their human rights,’ shows he fails to grasp the very meaning – that human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. It is astounding, and deeply worrying that these comments have come from the Justice Secretary.

“Grayling would do well to recognise that there are an estimated 1100 Britons detained in over 81 countries who are facing real hardship.

“These threats come despite the Prime Minister pledging there would be “no lurch to the right” by the Tories to counter the surge by UKIP that pushed the Tories into third place in the Eastleigh by-election.

“Such steps would be the first time any country in the developed world would have repealed fundamental human rights legislation. The UK government has already used its time in the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe to try and undermine the position of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but have been given short shrift by other nations. Repealing the Human Rights Act would send the impression of a backwards nation.

“With Independence, Scotland can make its own mark on the world, including the upholding of human rights.”