Review of Human Rights Act

“A commission is to be set up to review the Human Rights Act, as two terror suspects are allowed to stay in the UK” reads the headline on the BBC’s homepage.

Two suspected al-Qaeda terrorists appealed against extradition to Pakistan, on the grounds that they would likely be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. Their appeals were upheld, because it is a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights to extradite someone to a country where they may face torture or inhuman treatment (see the judgment in Soering v United Kingdom).

The headline implies that these two suspected terrorists have been allowed to go free in the UK, when actually they will remain in prison (with one on bail in a secret location). The emphasis is on suspected, because one of the cases was thrown out due to lack of evidence, and in any case neither are convicted of terrorist offences. (The evidence against them was heard by a judge in closed court, and was not made available to the defendants or their lawyers – possibly another violation, this time of article 6, the right to a fair trial).

On the back of this, the coalition government has announced that a commission has been set up to review the Human Rights Act, something the Tories have threatened to repeal for a long time but the Liberal Democrats oppose.

This act enshrines principles of the ECHR in domestic law, and ensures that people in the UK can defend their rights in a domestic court, instead of having to go all the way to Europe.

It is of course possible, as was pointed out to me by Amnesty’s Director Patrick Corrigan, that this review commission is a way for the Tories to discharge this part of their manifesto while keeping their coalition happy and in tact, because a review is, admittedly, not the same thing as repeal (at this stage).

Shami Chakrabati, director of the human rights NGO Liberty, said, “It’s no surprise that on the day that this issue about deporting a terror suspect comes up that people start wobbling over the Human Rights Act.

“But here’s the thing – sending people to torture is not just unlawful, it’s wrong.”

The HRA protects your rights from the government, and we must all be vigilant that the government doesn’t use fear of terrorism to curtail civil liberties bit by bit.