Leeds GATE

Working to improve the quality of life for Gypsies and Travellers

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Human Rights Based Advocacy – Using the laws to get results

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  May 11, 2017 |

Human Rights naturally plays a big role in so much at GATE; found both in our values and underplaying what we do in practice.  It is certainly key to advocacy, with the purpose of letting members know what their rights are and how these might best be defended.  What I was reminded of recently by an excellent session from the British Institute of Human Rights, is that we can and should sometimes be more willing to use legal tools to seek redress for wrongs. 


Instinctively we have a good sense of when members have been wronged and ethically what right has been harmed, whether this in relation to accommodation or health.  This could also include anything from denial of service, whether car insurance, dentist or school place or regular postal service.  What we have perhaps been less confident to do is cite exact legislation, most relevantly the Human Rights Act, and complain to the relevant offending body that this has been breached.  Rather, we have usually talked more broadly about the error and at discrimination which may have likely occurred.  It is sadly true though that some organisations are often unwilling to redress or even investigate accusations of fault and that more formal challenges may be necessary.  We must be prepared to take that step. 


This does not mean that we are going to start threatening court and issuing legal objections each week.  We at GATE are not lawyers and in many instances, hopefully most, it remains more effective to resolve mistakes and best advocate for members without taking formal legal steps.  It does not have to be confrontational at all.  We just need to remain conscious that there is a mechanism to challenge failures if necessary.  We must ensure that our members know this as well, not necessarily the exact wording of the HRA, but when and how this can be a useful option. 


Again, we are not lawyers so it is not for us to pursue technical cases.  In many instances this is not necessary though.  There is no harm identifying that we believe someone’s specific right to liberty or family life has been unfairly restricted; to cite the laws in play.  It often only takes the mention, if not treat, of legal action which gets the wheels moving.  Of course, when such complaints are ignored we do need to step things up.  It is at that stage we need to seek further professional input and work alongside solicitors and barristers.  GATE can’t do these things alone.


We do see instances when this has worked well, the famous case of R v Connors shows that human rights laws are there for the benefit of all and our members can benefit from these, even if it is a long fight.  It is helped right wrongs in many other cases, whether specific to Traveller ways of life or more broadly in a member enjoying rights we should all be entitled.  GATE will continue to seek constructive responses to advocacy issues but we can and shall be more willing and able to keep a close eye on human rights and exercise the harder legal options when these are being denied. 


Lastly, we cannot overlook the fact that these rights should not be taken for granted.  Indeed, there has been a lot of loose talk in the past year or so of undermining or entirely ending the Human Rights Act.  Some tabloid media and politicians are obsessed with misrepresenting its purpose and or seeking its replacement.  Whilst such pressure seems to have abated for now, we need to be vigilant.  Protecting human rights and the relevant laws that recognise these is another issue of solidarity Leeds GATE and its members can share with so many others.  So let’s work with others who value these laws, stressing to all that Traveller rights are human rights.

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