By: Guest blogger Nicola Jenkins
Well, hello, I’m new to blog writing so if I get too formal, please forgive me! I’ve been told it’s like writing to a friend so I’m going to try to do just that. I have to confess I am a human rights geek; I enjoy using them in my projects and am a keen advocate of them.
I arrived at the tour event in Blackpool and was immediately impressed by the organisation of the event and the friendliness of the organisers; Helen and Sophie. They were extremely welcoming and as the afternoon went on incredibly knowledgeable, inspirational and passionate. I am not a beginner to human rights, but if I was, I think I would have left the event feeling very well informed and confident in promoting the Human Rights Act (1998) which is pretty good going in one day.
The afternoon started with a presentation from n-compass, an advocacy service who support and inform people on how to challenge decisions made by healthcare and council professionals using the Human Rights Act. They explained that professionals seem to have very little knowledge of the Act and there needs to be more knowledge and understanding of the Human Rights Act amongst professionals who work in public services, especially as many of these services have a duty to protect rights under the Human Rights Act. I hope human rights training is made compulsory for professionals in the near future as it would save a lot of time and worry for people!
There was then a discussion about legal aid and how there is very limited access to it anymore, this did not deter the group as it was established you could represent yourself in court and some solicitors do pro bono work (i.e. provide services free of charge).
The most valuable fact that I was reminded of today was that everyone in the UK is covered by the Human Rights Act; it is universal and very important to remember this. Everyone needs to feel how empowering knowledge of the Act can be; please educate yourselves. Don’t put up with being treated badly.
The afternoon then moved on to discussing how human rights are depicted in the media; I was very critical of them being reported in a negative way, for instance, when a criminal tries to use the Human Rights Act for their own gain. A delegate of the tour said that she was disgusted that the Act can be used by criminals, but the organiser said that the Act needs to be universal and apply to everyone as once certain groups are excluded, it is a slippery slope, for instance, who decides who deserves to be covered? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was introduced so nothing as horrific as the Holocaust would happen again; the Act needs to be universal to help prevent the misuse of power by our governments as we saw in Nazi Germany.
We also discussed how you rarely hear about the positive use of human rights, which led me on to thinking about why this is so. Why do the media want people to think of rights negatively?
We know rights are used positively on a daily basis. We need to publicise these stories so people feel confident using the law when they need to.
The next topic that was discussed was ‘Politics and the Future of Human Rights’. David Cameron and the Tories pledged at the last election to scrap the Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights. The coalition compromise was to investigate the case for a UK Bill of Rights using the European Convention of Human Rights, but making no mention of the Human Rights Act. However, nothing has been done as yet so the Act is still applicable. This made me question why they are thinking of replacing an excellent piece of UK law for no apparent reason.
I found the afternoon, in conclusion, to be very inspirational. I want to get back to human rights direct action work now after a long break due to illness. I am currently involved in a few campaigns, especially in the National Health Action Party to keep our NHS public and the Bedroom Tax and other consequences of the Welfare Reform. I will be using the information I learnt today to educate the campaign organisers and the people most affected by these political changes.
The Human Rights Act is there to protect us and I plan to be an advocate for it and use it.
Thank you to everyone today who ignited my passion again.