Talk of written constitutions, abrogation of the Human Rights Act and full-scale review of human rights legislation may be rife in the robing rooms or law libraries; however, as has been the case in past election run-ins, human rights must take a back seat to other more pertinent issues at the upcoming election. In all honesty, I would rather it did.
Inexorably, the economy will take centre stage, and despite my zeal for human rights even I cannot draw a viable link between the economic downturn and human rights (of course, not forgetting our freedom to express our disdain towards the mercenary bankers). Afghanistan will be there or there abouts and rightly so. Nevertheless, issues including the DNA database and prisoners’ voting rights will not be enunciated by prospective parliamentary candidates at the doorsteps of the electorate. There will be few (difficult) people like myself who will purposely raise the issues, only to hear a pithy retort along the lines of “I will look into this important issue and revert back to you”. I am still waiting with bated breath.
Of all the three main parties, the Liberal Democrats are the only party at present who have coherent policy on the Act – retain it and never ever abrogate it. The broad church of Labour are split on the Act; after ‘bringing rights home’ in 1998, in the wake of 9/11 they have eroded civil liberties to an embarrassingly thin level. On the Left of the party they are calling for restitutio in integrum, whilst the Blairites and Brownites (ad idem for once) has called for constitutional reform that could see the Act replaced with a second British Bill of Rights.
The parties disagree on so many issues, whether it be core policy or mere electioneering. Take the case of Munir Hussain and homeowners’ rights – David Cameron contends that “human rights should be left outside the home”, whilst Labour and the Lib Dems support the current law, endorsed by the honourable Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions.
The indefinite retention of DNA and fingerprints for the innocent is another issue. The Government propose changes to introduce a hierarchy of retention periods commensurate to age and the gravity of the charge; alternatively the Lib Dems support blanket non-retention following the decision of the Strasbourg court in S and Marper v. United Kingdom.
Post-election the main three are going to have to return to the human rights drawing board whatever the outcome. A Lab/Lib coalition government will be the best outcome for the activists; however, I do not wish to do too much disservice to the new Conservative party. With figures such as Dominic Grieve and David Davis, I am hoping for positive influence on Cameronite ideology in relation to human rights.
The status quo is not dire, but nor is it acceptable. The Act has not lived up to expectation and there is still widespread misinterpretation of the Act leading to widespread antipathy.
So when you come to watch the leaders’ debates or you listen to the campaign speeches by the three leaders, do not sulk at the notable absence of rhetoric on human rights. We do not want rhetoric, we want action. This will only come post-election.