Belfast Telegraph

Steven Agnew: Rights too important to be lost

By Steven Agnew

We often hear the cry "That's against my human rights", but what impact does the Human Rights Act really have? And what is the Conservative Government so scared of?

The Human Rights Act is a simple, effective way of bringing human rights into everyday decision-making for public authorities, offering protection and/or justice for ordinary people.

It is not about creating barriers and obstacles; rather, it gives a voice to those who need it.

UK law has led the way on the tradition of human rights, going back to the Magna Carta in 1215.

The Human Rights Act was constructed to bring the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law and decision-making, as a way to allow British courts deal with human rights issues, rather than having cases heard in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Indeed, the EHCR was inspired by a group of European nations to protect its people from horrors and abuse such as those suffered during the Second World War.

British experts were heavily involved in drafting the EHCR; the UK was the first country to sign up to it, in 1951.

Repealing the Human Rights Act would have profound effects on a number of levels.

Currently, human rights - your rights - cannot be in the gift of the state to give, take away or change. This would alter.

It would appear that the Conservatives want to introduce a "British Bill of Rights", seeking to change who actually gets "human rights" and what such rights are.

As a consequence of replacing the Human Rights Act, the UK may have to step away from the ECHR.

Remaining a signatory to the ECHR is critical to UK citizens and to the reputation and international standing of the UK.

Locally, the Human Rights Act is embedded in the Good Friday Agreement, guaranteeing safeguards for everyone, which neither the Assembly nor public bodies can infringe.

I can only hope that the Conservatives do not, in their misguided attempt to undermine your fundamental rights, jeopardise the progress made in Northern Ireland.

Steven Agnew MLA is leader of the Green Party in Northern Ireland

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