The review into the Human Rights Act, although specific in its aims, provides an opportunity to briefly discuss wider issues relating to the application of human rights within society. Many popular misunderstandings of human rights are based on the exploitation of ignorance. This inflames debate, rather than encourage steady progress.
We suggest that there should a basic education in human rights in schools and colleges, stressing the following curriculum:
- Human rights are universal and inalienable
- There are other rights which can be fought for and won. Human Rights can only be defended because they come to all humans as a right.
- They are subject to rediscovery so that they can remain vital in changing circumstances.
To achieve this curriculum we would suggest two modules:
o Theodore Zeldin wrote that ‘to have a new vision of the future it has always been necessary first to have a new vision of the past.’
o Human Rights have an ancient past, from Roman writers in antiquity through to the American constitution.
o More pressingly Human Rights have a recent history, born out the wasteland that followed the Second World War. The Universal Declaration and the legally binding treaty that is the Convention in Europe were written in that moment. Protocols have been added to the Convention to reflect, for example a revolutionary and welcome change in attitude to capital punishment.
o In recent decades a number of the articles in the Convention have been severely stretched
o For example, the right to privacy is challenged by present digital revolution.
o Another example is the way in which the right to equality before the law and the court has been applied widely to support a broader understanding of equality itself.
o Rather than tinker, we would encourage all young people to explore how their universal and inalienable rights can best be captured for the next seventy years, their future. Subjects that might be considered could include climate change or identity. And issues like freedom of expression and religion could be reconsidered to give them new life.
o This debate amongst young people can be channelled to the government and the Council of Europe
The establishment of the Independent Human Rights Act Review was announced in December 2020.
The panel are considering options for amending the current Human Rights Act to present these to government. It will look at how the Human Right Act operates and how it’s enforced.
This includes examining the relationship between domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights,
as well as the relationship between the UK courts, executive and parliament.
Any review of the Human Rights Act has implications for every single one of us. This submission suggests that human rights education should be at the heart of establishing informed public discourse going forward,
to build long lasting consensus.
"The Law is a living thing. It is not rigid and unalterable. It's purpose is to serve mankind and it must grow and change to meet the changing needs of society."
David Maxwell Fyfe