Conference Countdown 2015: Human Rights motion – we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water

As many will know, there is an excellent motion on Human Rights to be debated at the Bournemouth conference. I have set out the motion below this post.

I have one query which readers may be to help me with.

It pertains to this section of the motion:

Conference resolves to:
…C. Retain the Human Rights Act unless it is replaced with a Bill of Rights which incorporates and builds on those rights set out in the ECHR and oppose any attempts by Conservatives to introduce a British Bill of Rights which does not achieve this.

Where it says “Retain the Human Rights Act unless it is replaced with a Bill of Rights which incorporates and builds on those rights set out in the ECHR”, I am very unclear as to what would happen to section 6 of the Human Rights Act if the Human Rights Act were to be replaced by a Bill of Rights.

Section 6 of the HRA makes it “unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a (ECHR) Convention right”. It would not seem automatic that such a stricture would be including in a Bill of Rights.

Therefore, at first reading, it seems necessary to have some additional wording in the motion to make clear that Section 6 of the HRA would be retained in the event of a new “Bill of Rights” (as distinct from a “British Bill of Rights”).

But I am not sure of this and would very much welcome any clarification in the comments section of this post below.

This is the full motion:

F34 Human Rights
Federal Policy Committee
Mover: Lord Marks QC (Parliamentary Spokesperson on Justice)
Summation: Jenny Woods

Conference believes that:

I. Human rights and civil liberties are fundamental to a fair, free and open society. They are vital to ensuring that the state is appropriately constrained and accountable for its use of power.

II. Human rights laws protect everyone, not only weak and vulnerable people, for example they have:
a) Stopped the state spying on citizens, supported peaceful protest and protected soldiers.
b) Helped rape victims, defended domestic violence victims and guarded against slavery.
c) Enhanced media freedom, protected whistle-blowers and provided answers for grieving families.
d) Preserved the right to a fair trial, prevented indiscriminate stop-and-search and protected minorities.
e) Helped elderly people subjected to physical abuse in their care homes and patients who suffered inhumane and degrading treatment at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust.
f) Ended corporal punishment in schools and protected parents’ rights in care proceedings.

III. Liberal Democrats recognise the leading role the UK took in drawing up the European Convention on Human Rights after the Second World War, based on long-standing British traditions of civil liberties.

IV. Membership of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is particularly important for the UK because among its 46 signatories the UK is in a very small minority in not having its own written constitution.

V. The UK has a vital role in showing world leadership in the upholding of universal human rights, which would be wrecked by the UK joining the pariah states who reject international human rights agreements.

VI. While UK law enforcement and intelligence agencies have a vital role in protecting the public and investigating criminal activity, we must ensure the state does not over-reach the bounds set by the ECHR in pursuing those roles.

VII. Transparency and independent scrutiny of the activities of security agencies is vital.

Conference applauds the fact that Liberal Democrats in Government in the last Parliament blocked Conservative plans to repeal the Human Rights Act and the Conservatives’ Communications Data Bill (the so-called ‘Snoopers’ Charter’) which would have forced internet service providers to keep records of citizens’ texts, emails and every website visited. Conference notes that the previous Labour Government attempted to introduce similar legislation.

Conference is therefore deeply alarmed by:

i) The threat posed to human rights in the United Kingdom by Conservative plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, which could weaken the protection of human rights in Britain, including the right to privacy and family life.
ii) The unwillingness of many Conservatives to accept the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and to abide by the UK’s international treaty obligation under the Convention.
iii) The prospect that the UK may leave, or be forced out of, the ECHR if plans supported by some Conservatives are implemented, depriving our citizens of the protection of the Convention and the Strasbourg Court and destroying the UK’s capacity to lead on human rights internationally.
iv) The threat to the peace and stability of Northern Ireland posed by the potential repeal of the Human Rights Act, which implemented a key element of the Good Friday Agreement 1998 to incorporate the ECHR into Northern Ireland law.
v) Proposals included in the Queen’s Speech, which are similar to those in the Communications Data Bill, and which would lead to the bulk collection of information by internet service providers.
vi) The Conservatives’ opposition to recommendations in the report by David Anderson QC for more accountable security services, including judicial approval for requests to intercept communications.

Conference resolves to:

A. Champion human rights and the UK’s membership of the ECHR.
B. Challenge misleading accounts of the effects of the ECHR.
C. Retain the Human Rights Act unless it is replaced with a Bill of Rights which incorporates and builds on those rights set out in the ECHR and oppose any attempts by Conservatives to introduce a British Bill of Rights which does not achieve this.
D. Oppose measures called for by the Conservatives, such as the bulk collection of data by internet service providers, which would lead to a disproportionate level of surveillance of members of the public.

Conference also calls for:

1. A Digital Bill of Rights, to define and enshrine the digital rights of the citizen, including:

a) The principle that everyone has the right to control their own data.
b) The right to use strong encryption to protect privacy and security.
c) The principle that public bodies should only be able to invade an individual’s privacy where there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

2. A new Freedoms Act, to protect citizens from excessive state power, including:

a) Measures to protect free speech and the right to cause offence.
b) Measures to prevent heavy handed policing with tighter regulation of ‘kettling’.
c) Tighter rules on the use of CCTV and facial images.

Applicability: Federal.

Mover: 7 minutes; summation of motion and movers and summation of any amendments: 4 minutes; all other speakers: 3 minutes. For eligibility and procedure for speaking in this debate, see page 7.

In addition to speeches from the platform, it will be possible for conference representatives to make concise (maximum one-minute) interventions from the floor during the debate on the motion. See page 7 for further information.

The deadline for amendments to this motion – see page 9 – is 13.00, Monday 7th September; amendments selected for debate will be printed in Conference Extra.

The deadline for requests for separate votes – see page 6 – is 09.00, Monday 21st September

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