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‘Let them eat cake’: the Queen’s speech

Sue Pascoe 3 3

Sue Pascoe

In this feature Sue Pascoe provides analysis on the Queen’s speech delivered by Prince Charles and the emerging Bill of Rights.

Our Queen’s Speech was missing several things. Not only was it missing our gracious Queen, but also the overall vision for the country that my Party once had and any new focus on measures to ‘move the dial’ on the cost-of-living crisis.

Extraordinarily though, it did find time to make mention of taking our human rights away, dressing this up as an act of common sense no less.

When we waste our precious Parliamentary time taking people’s rights away whilst people can’t afford heating and food, it is reminiscent of a certain French Queen who said “let them eat cake”.

I’m speaking of the pernicious Bill of Rights which should better be described as the ‘Bill of Takeaways’.

First some background

After the Second World War, Winston Churchill along with senior human rights lawyers and diplomats helped to establish the Council of Europe and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), protecting the human rights of people in countries that belong to the Council of Europe (completely separate from the European Union). Countries across Europe including the U.K. are members, Belarus was not a member and Russia has recently withdrawn following its invasion of Ukraine.

The Convention was based on the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was signed in Rome in 1950 and came into force in 1953. The European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg applies and protects the rights and guarantees set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Our Human Rights Act enshrined these rights into UK law and sets out the mechanism for appealing cases to the Strasbourg Court once all avenues have been exhausted in the U.K.
Being a member of the Council of Europe and the ECHR not only underpins human rights but our place in the democracies of nations across the wider region of Europe from trading relationships to security to the rule of law. The proposed new Bill of Rights puts all this at risk for no clear tangible benefit to us as citizens that I can see.

In the Queen’s speech the Bill of Rights chapter says:

  • “Establishing the primacy of UK case law, clarifying there is no requirement to follow the Strasbourg case law and that UK Courts cannot interpret rights in a more expansive manner than the Strasbourg Court.”

I cannot interpret this in any other way than the government intends to withdraw the UK, like Russia from the ECHR, denying us as citizens all the rights and guarantees this membership affords and reducing our standing in the world.

  • Defending freedom of speech by promoting greater confidence in society to express views freely, thereby enhancing public debate.”  

Given that Article 10 of the Human Rights Act gives everyone the right to freedom of expression which “shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers” it is hard to understand what new right is required. I suspect it is a right to express bigotry, hate, harassment, and victimisation of selected minorities without recourse to sanction – that is really what is being sought.

  • “Curbing the incremental expansion of a rights culture without proper democratic oversight, which has displaced due focus on personal responsibility and the public interest.”

Hard to know what this means. It’s sounds like culture war. The only meaningful legislative change I can think of that might be under attack is the Public Sector Equality Duty. This requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people when carrying out their activities.

  • “Ensuring that UK courts can no longer alter legislation contrary to its ordinary meaning and constraining the ability of the UK courts to impose positive obligationson our public services without proper democratic oversight by restricting the scope for judicial legislation.”

Our unwritten constitution is based on a balance between Parliament, Civil Servants, Government Institutions, the Police and Judiciary. Judicial review has been a tried and tested mechanism for citizens and others within this constitutional mix to test if powers have been exercised lawfully in a particular circumstance in relation to specific application of laws, rules and protocols. To try to take away this right is an abuse of power and a disturbance to the long standing constitutional balance.

  • “Tackling the issue of foreign criminals evading deportation, because their human rights are given greater weight than the safety and security of the public. An estimated 70 per cent of foreign national offenders who had their deportation overturned in the last five years on human rights grounds in the First Tier Tribunal did so due to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Right to Family Life).”

Now here I have much more sympathy with the government and tightening the rules even getting a specific derogation for not applying certain aspects of Article 8 in specific circumstances documented and agreed with Strasbourg would seem appropriate but no reason to take away everyone else’s rights at the same time!

Finally, we need to stop making out there is something wrong with human rights. They are the bed rock of every decent democracy in the world. Our human rights were fought for by our fathers and mothers and are being fought for again in Ukraine who are also signatories to the same ECHR rights, and I for one am not going to stand aside whilst they are written away at the stroke of a pen.

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