I was reading in a newspaper at work recently about comments made by the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw MP, with regards to the Human Rights Act 1998. The newspaper in which I read these comments will remain nameless (generally because I despise this particular paper and the title of the paper is irrelevant). This particular Newspaper campaigns for the complete removal of the Human Rights Act, something which I fundamentally disagree with (as regular readers of my blog will know). What I do agree with though is that the Human Rights Act is flawed (but that is no reason to abolish the concept of Human Rights entirely).
The Human Rights Act needs tweaked with in order to widen its scope, to help judges to interpret it and to make its application relevant to the wider population. As it stands those who benefit most are those who are already on the wrong side of the law. Those on the wrong side of the law are, in my opinion, still entitled to the majority of their Human Rights. Of course in order to deal with dangerous offenders who are unable to be part of a civilised society we have to remove some of their basic rights such as their right to liberty.
One way to make the Human Rights Act more applicable to the wider society would be to amend it including aspects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (among other International Treaties). The UDHR is a wider treaty that covers many more areas than the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950. The two treaties combined would strengthen the Act and at the same time make it more widely applicable.
In my opinion the inclusion of Articles 25, 26 and 29 of the UDHR would strengthen the HRA fundamentally. Article 25 reads:
- Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Article 26 reads as follows:
- Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
- Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
- Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Article 29 reads as follows:
- Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
- In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
- These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
I have chosen these three articles for very specific reasons. Largely the rights that they protect are ones already enjoyed by those living within the United Kingdom. People take such things for granted, but forget that they are not things to be taken for granted. For example, in the UK we have the right to free Health Care through the National Health Service. However, within living memory there was no such thing as the NHS and people were being denied he most basic of healthcare. By incorporating such rights into the Act it makes it applicable to everyone in society and will help to reduce resentment towards something that is important and fundamental to a democratic society.