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Keeping the Human Rights Act – We are all in this together

Ben Chastney's picture
By Ben Chastney |  June 5, 2015 |

Human Rights imageAs promised during the recent election, the new Government are pushing ahead with proposals to replace the Human Rights Act.  In the Queen’s Speech last week this intention was formalised, so we can expect to see some concrete proposals over the coming year.  The concern for so many is not only that any proposed replacement ‘British bill of Rights’ unavoidably provides fewer safeguards in practice but the general attitude displayed towards vulnerable people and the likely tone of debate.

For Gypsies and Travellers, the Human Rights Act has in some cases been of clear and specific use.  Indeed some of our members have directly benefitted from it, appealing to key articles regarding a right to privacy of family life to prevent the Local Authority from evicting them unjustly.  The concern is not simply that such rights would long longer be available in future but that it is precisely such cases, misleadingly retold, will be used as a reason why the Act needs to go.

The tone of such debate with regards to protection of minorities could quite easily become hostile, with the focus on scapegoats and exaggeration instead of facts and understanding.Our task is not to deny that Gypsies and Travellers have and do benefit from the HRA but to correct untruths and crucially demonstrate the wider value of these same rights to all.  The challenge is to make a unique case for the importance of the Act to our members, whilst explaining its universal benefits to other groups and individuals.

Politically we must recognise that the more powerful voices pushing against the HRA’s repeal, particularly with respect to public opinion, arguably lies with other organisations.  Other groups, whether working in fields relating to disability, the elderly, civil liberties etc. will likely meet the most positive reception, perhaps because more people can relate to who and what they represent.  Whilst we must recognise this reality, that does not mean that Gypsy and Traveller individuals and groups should not add their voice to the debate.  Far from it.

I can understand the hesitation of raising Gypsy and Traveller voices; for the very fear they will be used to justify the repeal we are working to avoid.  Indeed it is precisely because the community is likely to be the focus of the upcoming argument on human rights that those of us who are best replaced to refute and respond do so.  We should also be confident enough to talk about the positives of the Act and stand in solidarity with countless others to demonstrate the many and varied reasons why it should stay.  There is likely to be a debate coming, whether we like it or not, so I would prefer we constructively contribute than hope it doesn’t happen.

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