(you can download the briefing on this page via pdf here)
With a fresh Prime Minister and Cabinet as we enter the Jewish new year, the Human Rights Act (HRA)- a cornerstone of universal human rights protections in the UK- remains intact for the time being after the proposed Bill of Rights was shelved earlier in early September. However, with whispers of forthcoming plans to gut the Act through various proposals, René Cassin reminds the Jewish community of the importance of the HRA for us, and those whose rights we fight for, including migrants, refugees, Gypsy, Roma & Traveller People, and women.
WHAT IS THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT?
- “Human rights are an integral part of the faith and tradition of Judaism. The beliefs that man was created in the divine image, that the human family is one, and that every person is obliged to deal justly with every other person are basic sources of the Jewish commitment to human rights.” -Monsieur René Cassin, 1974 (Co-drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
- Beyond values, the principles of human rights evolved as a response to the atrocities committed in the Holocaust to prevent this from ever happening again.
- Several human rights treaties were written as a response, so that never again would states persecute their citizens including Jews, Gypsies, Roma and Travellers, gay people and disabled people. The first of these, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, was co-drafted by our namesake, Monsieur René Cassin, in 1948. Shortly after, British lawyers and politicians were very involved in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and in 1951 Britain was the first state to sign it.
- The Human Rights Act 1998 brought the ECHR into domestic use in 2000. These events and contributions by M. Cassin and other individuals have created an important legacy.
They are benefits and protections for everyone equally
- Human rights are universal. They protect every individual’s humanity and dignity. In particular, they protect individuals from the power of the state.
- The Human Rights Act enables you to defend these rights in UK courts. It requires public organisations – including the Government, police and local councils – to treat everyone fairly and with dignity and respect.
- Public organisations must not breach our human rights. In addition, they must prevent others from breaching someone’s human rights if they are at known risk.
WHAT DOES THIS LOOK LIKE IN PRACTICE?
Adath Yisroel Burial Society v HM Senior Coroner for Inner North London, 2018
- When the senior coroner of North London put in place a policy that failed to allow Jewish or Muslim burials to be expedited despite their religious requirements, the Adath Yisroel Burial Society and Mrs Ita Cymerman Symons MBE took a judicial review.
- The court found the policy unlawful on several grounds, including failure to strike a fair balance between the rights and interests of different groups under Article 9 ECHR.
- As a result, the Chief Coroner had to produce new guidance to clarify this matter. This change benefits two religious communities, the Jewish and Muslim communities.
Elderly people in care
- The organisation Jewish Care supported a couple, Mr and Mrs R, who are in their 80s in their right to family life.
- Mr and Mrs R have been married for 54 years and wanted to stay together at this stage of their lives. Their local authority assessed them both separately and wanted Mrs R to move into a Jewish Care home without Mr R, as they felt that the care needs of both partners weren’t sufficient to warrant them both moving to a care home.
- Jewish Care advocated for them to be together and asked for a reassessment, based on their care needs and their right to family life.
- Jewish Care was successful and it was found that both of their care needs met the criteria for more support. They are now living in a Jewish Care care home.
THREATS TO THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT: THE PROPOSED BILL OF RIGHTS
- For over a decade now, Conservative governments have been considering repealing the Human Rights Act.
- Most recently they planned to replace it with a Bill of Rights, introduced into parliament in June 2022.
- Like many other human rights organisations, René Cassin’s analysis concluded that the Bill reduced rights instead of enhancing them. It weakened the ability of ordinary people to challenge decisions made by public authorities.
- Within a day of the new Prime Minister being appointed and the new Cabinet in place, the government withdrew the Bill of Rights, at least for now.
- The consensus among campaigners is that plans to diminish the Human Rights Act are likely to be put forward again within the next year
THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT PROTECTS REFUGEE RIGHTS
In the UK, a person becomes a refugee when government agrees that an individual who has applied for asylum meets the definition in the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, and therefore issue them with refugee status documentation. According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees statistics, as of mid-2021 there were 135,912 refugees, 83,489 pending asylum cases and 3,968 stateless persons in the UK.
- The HRA stops children from losing their parents and the vulnerable losing their carers to deportation: The HRA protects the right to family life via Article 8. This means that if it can be proved to cause ‘exceptional and overwhelming’ or ‘irreversible’ harm to a person’s child or dependent, a deportation can be stopped on the grounds that it violates Article 8.
- For example. S was brought to the UK from Jamaica at the age of four but did not register as a British citizen because of the fees. He cared for his younger sibling but was sentenced to 15 months in prison for intent to supply cannabis in 2018 and was to be deported. S’s mother was unwell and reliant on his care, and his younger brother suffered behavioural problems, which were resolved when S returned. The court decided that this deportation would violate the Article 8 rights of S’s mother and brother and so the deportation was halted.
What’s Jewish about it?
- Throughout history, the ability to seek refuge has been essential to Jewish survival.
- We believe that the British public, and the Jewish community, have an important stake in maintaining a domestic protection system for vulnerable minority groups, including refugees and asylum seekers.
- The horrors of the Holocaust led to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention).
THE HRA PROTECTS GYPSIES, ROMA, AND TRAVELLER PEOPLE
“Gypsies and Travellers” refers to Romani Gypsies, Irish Travellers, Scottish Gypsy Travellers, Welsh Gypsy Travellers (or Kale), New Travellers and Travelling Showpeople. Romani Gypsies, Scottish Gypsy Travellers and Welsh Gypsy Travellers have been resident in the UK since the 16th century and Irish Travellers since at least the 19th century. About 200,000 to 300,000 Gypsies and Travellers are estimated to live in the UK. They are marginalised through educational exclusion, limited access to health, police harassment, criminalisation of their nomadic culture and chronic shortage of caravan sites.
- HRA protects GRT people from eviction via Article 8, the right to respect for an individual’s home and family life. In Connors v United Kingdom, it was held that the eviction of an Irish Traveller from a local authority run site in Leeds in accordance with the provisions of the Caravan Sites Act 1968 was a violation of his Article 8 rights. Following Connors, the law was changed to suspend possession orders for periods of up to 12 months, making eviction harder.
- HRA makes rights accessible for people in the UK: without it, individuals likely need to petition the European Court of Human Rights directly, which takes longer and costs more. For disadvantaged groups without legal resources like GRT people, this would make legal redress very hard.
What’s Jewish about it?
- The lead up to the Holocaust saw the marginalisation of groups for their identity and political views, including Jews, Roma, disabled people, gay people, and communists.
- This took the form of persecution, medical experimentation, denial of rights, surveillance measures such as yellow stars for Jews, denial of education and employment, internal displacement and finally murder in concentration camps.
- This experience is still within the living memory of the Jewish community. It is because of this that the Jewish community stands with other minorities, especially when their rights are threatened.
THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT PROTECTS WOMEN’S RIGHTS
Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a human rights issue. Data from the Femicide Census shows that a woman has been killed by a man, on average, once every three days, over a 10-year period (2020). The HRA has long upheld women’s rights to live free from the fear of violence; it provides victim-survivors with essential legal protections and vital tools to challenge the state and its institutions for failing to protect from gender-based violence.
- The HRA held the police accountable for failing to protect women: The HRA provides essential legal protections that are fundamental to women’s rights, as an overwhelming number of police failings relate to sexual violence and domestic abuse. In the UK, the Police cannot be sued for negligence, which means the HRA is the only tool in UK law that can be used to compel them to take responsibility for violations against women.
- Popular proposals with the current government include reducing positive obligations of public authorities. This would remove a vital legal route for victims and survivors to hold the system to account for failing to protect them.
- Eroding the rights of migrant women prevents us from tackling gender-based violence – Women for Refugee Women’s reports of sexual harassment and assault in detention centres make this very clear.
- The HRA has secured justice for many families harmed by gender-based violence, e.g.:
What’s Jewish about it?
- Evidence from Jewish Women’s Aid shows that it takes Jewish women on average 11.5 years before reaching out for help – this is around two years higher than the national average.
- Any reduction in the ability of victims of domestic abuse to challenge decisions made by public authorities, for example to ensure reports of rape and sexual violence are properly investigated and prosecutions pursued, will have a disproportionate effect on Jewish women.
ABOUT RENÉ CASSIN
René Cassin works to promote and protect universal rights drawing on Jewish experience and Jewish values.
René Cassin works within the Jewish community – by building support for human rights values amongst British Jews, and in the wider community – by bringing the authority of a Jewish perspective on issues that resonate with Jewish experience
Founded in 2000, René Cassin has a dedicated staff team, supported by an engaged Board of Trustees, an expert Advisory Council and a wider group of alumni, volunteers and supporters.