Obsessed with certain papers or just a bit of balance in media reporting, including on human rights?

Today is Blog Action Day and the theme is human rights. To mark the occasion, BIHR’s Sophie Howes reflects on the role of the media in informing the public about human rights and calls for more of a balance when it comes to reporting human rights news stories.

Paul Dacre, Editor of the Daily Mail wrote a piece in last week’s Guardian entitled ‘Why is the left obsessed by the Daily Mail?’ The article is a response to the Ralph Milliband affair (where the paper claimed Ed Milliband’s father ‘hated Britain’) and puts forward the view that the widespread criticism of the Mail article was the latest attempt by the left to place limits on papers that dare to criticise:

The hysteria that followed is symptomatic of the post-Leveson age in which any newspaper which dares to take on the left in the interests of its readers risks being howled down by the Twitter mob who the BBC absurdly thinks represent the views of real Britain.

There was a bit of a furor following the Mail article about Ralph Milliband, but unlike Dacre I don’t see the BBC and Twitter as being solely responsible for this. I think the widespread media coverage was generated by a reaction from the general public and touched on something much deeper, that whilst prompted by the Milliband story was actually a response to a much wider problem. People are sick of reading misinformed and unrepresentative media reports on a whole range of issues, including human rights.

The public tell us they’re fed up with mis-reporting

There is a huge amount of misinformation about human rights reported in the media, and it is having a far more serious impact than many people realise. No one paper is responsible for this, and the media are not alone in this, some of our most senior political leaders are also perpetuating these myths. But the impact is still the same, most people get their information about human rights from the media, the media human rights story is always a bad one, leading many people to conclude that somehow human rights are a bad thing.

BIHR has been touring the country holding free to attend community workshops on human rights as part of our annual Human Rights Tour. We spend time at these events ‘fact checking’ stories about human rights in the media, to give people the opportunity to find out the facts behind human rights stories they read in the media. Here are our top three human rights ‘media myths’:

Prisoner Voting

What the media said: The European Court of Human Rights want to give all prisoners in the UK the right to vote

The facts: The Court ruled that a blanket ban preventing all prisoners from voting (a law that dates back to Victorian times) needs to be looked at again and a more proportionate response is needed. It’s up to Parliament to decide what this looks like and which prisoners would be granted the vote.


What the media said: A migrant got to stay in the UK because he had a cat by using his right to a private and family life (Article 8 of the Human Rights Act)

The facts: A migrant was allowed to stay in the UK because he had demonstrated he was in a long term relationship with someone who resided in the UK. One of the pieces of evidence they used to demonstrate the relationship was real was the fact they owned a cat together (as per the Home Office guidelines). Owning a cat was not the reason the man was allowed to remain in the UK.

A charter for criminals

What the media said: The Human Rights Act is a charter for criminals, putting the rights of the criminal ahead of the rights of the victim.

The facts: Everyone in the UK is protected by the Human Rights Act. This means people who commit offences can have some of their rights limited or restricted but they still have basic rights and freedoms because they are human. It also means the Human Rights Act protects vulnerable groups such as older people, and victims of crime. In fact Keir Starmer, Director of the Crown Prosecution Service recently said in a media interview that the Human Rights Act has been ‘a real asset to victims and witnesses.’

Stories all about Human Rights – not that you’d know from much reporting

And here are our top three examples of the positive human rights stories we don’t see in the press:

Mid Staffordshire Hospital Scandal

The Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal was a gross abuse of human rights, where people died and were severely mistreated following extreme neglect and poor treatment in Stafford hospital. This extreme lack of dignity and respect isn’t just about values, it was also an abuse of legally protected human rights. So far over 100 of the families affected by the scandal used the Human Rights Act to get justice, to secure some accountability from those in power. Yet among the many headlines and column inches rightly generated by the Mid-Staff situation how many times do you remember reading about how important the Human Rights Act was for victims and their families?

Gary McKinnon

Our Home Secretary made no bones about relying on the Human Rights Act to prevent the deportation of Gary McKinnon to the United States to face charges of computer hacking. Theresa May said ‘Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights’. The role of the Human Rights Act in preventing this deportation -of a man with learning disabilities – can be contrasted with other deportation cases which more often than not seem to call for scrapping such protections

The thousands of examples of the Human Rights Act making a positive difference to people’s lives

The Human Rights Act has made the lives of thousands of people better, we just don’t read about it in the Press. Whether it is victims of violence being protected from cross-examination by their alleged attacker, or people with a mental health problem accessing their rights in hospital, there are hundreds of examples of the Human Rights Act making a positive impact to our lives.

At BIHR this is exactly what our practical work does – we help people, including those in public services and government, to take human rights beyond the courtrooms and into our everyday life. The Human Rights Act is not a magic wand, but it is an important law which can have real meaning in our everyday lives to make sure the Government plays fair and we are all treated with a bit of dignity and respect. Our work shows how the Human Rights Act helped Lisa and Ben get answers when they discovered unexplained injuries to their son during his hospital stay. Or how Mr and Mrs Driscoll, turned to the Human Rights Act to stop them from being split up and sent to separate care homes. Or the carers we work with in North-West England who can now stand up for themselves and their loved ones to get a fairer deals which makes sure everyone is treated with a bit of respect. Yet how many times do we read about these stories? It seems good human rights news just isn’t news – but is that true? Are we – the great British public – really just interested in bad news and sensationalism?

Looking forward 

The British public are a diverse bunch and no one media outlet, be it the Mail, Twitter, the BBC or otherwise represents the views of us all. Instead what we need is a more balanced view in our media of what human rights are, and what they aren’t, so the British public can engage in the important debates about the future of our human rights law that is going on at the heart of Government. After all, human rights belong to us, and it should be up to the people to decide their fate – but let’s at least try and make sure we’re having an informed debate. As things heat upover implementing the Leveson Inquiry and those in the media uphappy with proposed regulation models turn to our human rights laws to protect free speech maybe the time is coming for more balanced reporting on these issues.

Simply the West: The Human Rights Tour arrives in Bristol

By guest blogger: Paul Langton


To what extent should an individual have the right to choose their prescribed medical treatment? Does the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities supersede parts of the Human Rights Act? Are all services provided to the public covered by the Act? How are human rights represented in the education system and the media?

DSC_0219On October 10th in Bristol’s Broadmead Baptist Church, I was a delegate on the BIHR’s Human Rights Tour and, with my fellow attendees, was wrestling to find the answers to these – and other – questions.  We came from a range of backgrounds with our own reasons for learning more about human rights.  This included Charlie, who inspected care services, who was interested in how the act could serve vulnerable adults and was interested in learning more; Ade a worker in NHS mental health services and chair of the local Amnesty Group  who was concerned about repeal of the Act and was keen to discuss it’s representation in the media and Tasha, a member of Bristol Disability Equality Forum,  who wanted to find out more about her human rights and how to use it to challenge organisations if she felt she wasn’t being treated fairly.

BIHR’s Sophie and Helen took us through the history of human rights, explored real-life case studies, unpicked the myths behind Theresa May and the “cat-gate” deportation story, explained the legal terms of proportionality, absolute and non-absolute rights, the declaration of incompatibility, reminded us of the positions taken by the main political parties and expertly fielded a range of questions on human rights issues.

With representatives from Bristol Disability Equality Forum speaking on welfare reform, the lobbying bill and the danger of repealing the Human Rights Act followed by representatives from Avon and Bristol Law Centre, speaking on the launch of a new discrimination advice service, the organisers managed to pack a wealth of DSC_0224information, teaching, discussion and debate into a single day session lasting just under 6 hours.

The highlights for everyone would have been different. For me, it was appreciating that human rights did not start with the European Court but are wrapped up in a centuries old history tapestry of charters, acts, bills and declarations dating back to 1215 and the Magna Carta. It was grasping the on-going tensions between the intent of lawmakers, the curtailing of individual freedoms, and the ever-present wariness of a slide down the “slippery slope” with the danger of small decisions leading to great injustices.  It was being stirred enough to research declarations of incompatibility in the UK and seeing how human rights legislation had challenged and shaped domestic law. Finally it was finding out how the Human Rights Act was complimented by the UN Convention and not supplanted by it.

The day concluded with the recitation of a powerful and thought provoking quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which reminded us that universal human rights begin in “the world of the individual person” and which called for “concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home”. It’s a quote I spent some time thinking about, and I felt that on October 10th one of those places was a church in the heart of Bristol. We are some of those citizens, and that our future actions – no matter how small – can help to continue to make those universal rights a reality and set the direction for the debate in the future.

(My personal thanks to Charlie, Ade and Tasha who allowed me to solicit their views on the spot. Your contributions were much appreciated.)

36 Hours in Haverfordwest

photo2We at BIHR packed our bags for a luxuriously long spell of 36 hours in the Pembrokeshire town of Haverfordwest in West Wales. Whilst we we there we held an afternoon event with members of Pembrokeshire People First (PPF), and then held a Human Rights Tour event the following day. Here are two perspectives on the events:

A view on the afternoons events by guest blogger: Lucy Hinksman of Pembrokeshire People First

I was really happy that the BIHR came down to Pembrokeshire a day early to meet up with the members of PPF.  photo4It was a great day, where we got to talk about our human rights experiences, chat about Pembrokeshire People First, and learn more about the Human Rights Act, and who it applies to. It was also a chance to get creative making human rights bunting, which everyone seemed to enjoy. Some of us were videoed to tell parliament to leave the Human Rights Act alone.  I am really looking forward to seeing the human rights bunting on tour, and hope the government sees it.

A view on the days Human rights Tour event by guest blogger: Giles from Pembrokeshire People First

The presentation on the Human Rights Act, done by two enthusiastic, committed and knowledgeable presenters, was both informative and enjoyable. The debate engendered was at times challenging.

DSC_0192From my point of view, as an advocate for People with Learning Disabilities, I was obviously aware of the HRA. However what was new for me – and empowering – was the idea of quoting specific sections of the Act as a tool in trying to get the voices of advocacy partners heard and to enable them to get their choices acted on. I was especially interested to hear how Article 8, even if it is a ‘qualified’ right, can be used to ensure that the least restrictive option is put in place.  The more that those in positions of power and control over vulnerable people know and understand about rights legislation and the principles that should flow from this the more that human rights will actually be observed in spirit.

My ambition for advocacy is that it withers away because it is no longer needed. That day will come when human rights are respected by all and acted upon by all.

Human Rights at the Party Conferences: An election battleground

With the party conferences came a fair degree of attention on human rights. One thing is certainly clear, this issue is not going away and the position on human rights will be a dividing line in the run-up to the General Election in 2015. That sounds like a good old while away, but in fact it is now that parties will be considering their manifesto commitments, now is the time that our political representatives will be having discussions about their position on the future of our human rights protections. So what exactly was said at the party conference?

Liberal-Democrats: stopping the Human Rights Act being scrappedLD

  • Nick Clegg’s speech listed “not ditching the Human Rights Act” as one of the top 16 things the Lib Dems have prevented the Conservative party from doing in the coalition Government.
  • Conference motion F41 on Human Rights was passed (proposed by Julian Huppert MP and summated by Brighton and Hove Lib Dems). The full text of the motion is here. It has 6 main points and begins with “The Human Rights Act to be retained”. It also refers to the ways the HRA protects people in everyday situations – often the examples that reflect BIHR’s practical experience of bringing rights to life beyond the court-rooms.
  • During the motion debate Lord McNally, current Justice Minister with human rights responsibility, said “So long as the Liberal Democrats are in Government there will be no repeal of Human Rights Act…I have said to my Tory colleagues – if the Tories really want to call into question our commitment to the Human Rights Act, to the European Convention on Human Rights, to the European Court on Human Rights, then let’s take that case to the hustings…I still have great faith in the value of the British people and their respect for human rights. It is an argument that we can win.”
  • At a fringe event organised by Liberty, Lord McNally said: “I want us to go out and win the argument, even in difficult places,” he said. “Of course our human rights legislation will defend criminal suspects but also the grandma in the care home, the child that has been abused; it will protect the right of people to protest against politicians. If we don’t keep to the Convention, what hope is there for the gay man in Russia, for the political activist in Belarus? We have to be resolute in taking this on. We will be at the barricades and Liberty will be there with us.

Labour: supporting the Human Rights Act, and its role in protecting peoplelabour

In his conference speech, Sadiq Khan, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, said:

“…what if the Conservatives succeed in their clamour to abolish human rights laws? There’d be less protection for victims of crime. We’d lose:

  • Laws that halted the diabolical situation of rape victims being cross-examined directly by their attackers.
  • Laws that helped bereaved families find out how loved ones died.
  • Laws that offer protection against the grotesqueness of modern day slavery, human trafficking.

Human rights laws the Tories want to scrap. Human rights laws of which Labour is proud. Human rights laws Labour will defend.”

At a fringe event by Liberty, Diane Abbott concluded the event by noting that the test of a society’s commitment to civil liberties is how it treats the marginalised and unpopular minorities, she said “Sometimes we must take a stand in advance of public opinion because it is the right thing to do”.

Conservatives: a manifesto promise to scrap the Human Rights Act Conservative

The conference speech of Theresa May, current Home Secretary detailed plans for the future of the HRA and for the specific right to respect for private and family life (Article 8):

  • “..the next Conservative manifesto will promise to scrap the Human Rights Act…it’s why the Conservative position is clear – if leaving the European Convention is what it takes to fix our human rights laws, that is what we should do. Those are issues for the general election, when Labour and the Lib Dems will have to explain why they value the rights of terrorists and criminals more than the rights of the rest of us.”
  • “The Government will soon publish the Immigration Bill, which will make it easier to get rid of people with no right to be here.” Focus on cutting appeals, deporting with appeals from abroad and “the Immigration Bill will sort out the abuse of Article Eight – the right to a family life – once and for all.  This is used by thousands of people to stay in Britain every year.  The trouble is, while the European Convention makes clear that a right to a family life is not absolute, judges often treat it as an unqualified right.”

In addition Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling’s conference speech, focused on scrapping the HRA and altering UK’s relationship with European Court of Human Rights:

  • “never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined it would end up where it has; twisted by political correctness … with the all too familiar yob’s catchphrase ‘I know my rights’ … rulings that make our judges doubt they can say to the most heinous of murderers ‘you’re going to prison for the rest of your life’.”
  • “For me no change is not an option. One small problem.  We are the only major party committed to radical reform of human rights laws. Labour are opposed.  The Liberal Democrats are opposed.  I don’t know why.  It’s blindingly obvious the public want change.  I simply don’t believe that the majority of the people in this country think that human rights laws are fine as they are.”
  • “We will go into the next election with a clear plan for change. In the New Year the Conservatives will publish a document setting out what we will do, when we will do it, and how we will do it. And then later in the year we will publish a draft Bill which will set out in legal detail exactly how our changes will take effect. We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act. We will make sure that with legal rights go legal responsibilities. Our Supreme Court should be in Britain and not in Strasbourg.”

However, at a fringe event organised by Liberty, the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve said:

  • “I defy anyone in this room to read the European Convention and find a right within it with which they disagree.”
  • “That’s not to say we always get it right – we’re a human society, there will always be examples of judicial decisions which are probably wrong. But the question is how do we tackle this problem in a way which leads to a satisfactory long-term outcome for this country. That’s what I’m committed to try to help my colleagues achieve.”

What next

There can be no doubt that the future of human rights protections in the UK is set to be a key issue in the run up to the General Election in 2015. BIHR believes now is the time for people and organisations to learn more about these debates, to understand their relevance to everyday life and practice, and join with others to speak up about the importance of human rights to us all.  Watch this space for more information and resources! In the meantime you can:

Heading North- The Human Rights Tour Lands on Shetland

By Guest Blogger:  Deirdre Flanigan, Communications and Outreach Co-ordinator, Scottish Human Rights Commission


On 3 October the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) teamed up with the Highland Equality Forum (HIEF) and the DSC_0184Highland LGBT Equality Forum for the Human Rights Tour event in Lerwick, the capital of Shetland. Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous quote about human rights being meaningful in small places was prescient. Shetland is an island at the very tip of Scotland and has a population of just 22,400. The public and voluntary sectors, as well as a vibrant grouping of civil society groups, are active in promoting a human rights culture on Shetland, and the BIHR Tour event was very well attended.

I had flown in the day before from Edinburgh to see what unique challenges Shetland faced in human rights protection and promotion in the context of Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights. I was hoping that the tour event would give me a greater sense of how human rights apply in peoples’ everyday lives on the islands.

DSC_0170This unique event offered training on LGBT issues and human rights. The morning session, delivered by HIEF and Highland LGBT Forum, included a presentation from Police Scotland. I particularly enjoyed a task which required participants to organise a timeline of key legal moments in fulfilling the basic human rights of LGBT people. This was a timely reminder that we are very much in the early stages of achieving universal human rights for everyone.

It was encouraging to hear from Police Scotland about their approach to investigating and prosecuting hate crimes in the Highlands and Islands. There clearly was a joined up approach being taken by the police, the rest of the public sector and activists and campaigners to promote equality and human rights.

The afternoon session included training delivered by BIHR and was a very accessible run through of the rights contained in the Human Rights Act (HRA). The group appreciated that care had been taken to present a Scottish perspective and included information on how the HRA applies with regard to the Scotland Act.

We were split into groups and given case studies of real life scenarios and asked to identify which rights were engaged. This activity was a very empowering experience as it demonstrated that identifying issues related to human rights required not years of legal training, but rather the application of common sense and a sense of respect for human dignity.

Later we hooked up by satellite to another BIHR tour event taking place simultaneously in York. Stephen Bowen, Director of BIHR, was there and was ready to answer our questions. There was a fascinating discussion about the media’s perception of human rights and the current political threat to the HRA. He was also told, in no uncertain terms, that he must get on a flight soon and visit the Northern Isles! An offer of Shetland hospitality that he should definitely take up given that the community there is extremely motivated to embrace human rights in their everyday lives and their work.

BIHR comes to Glasgow: With The Impending Referendum, Is Scotland More Politically Progressive Towards Human Rights?

By: Guest Blogger Nadia Maloney, Author of The Untold Story blog.

On an unusually bright and sunny morning, during a time of great political challenge, the BIHR Tour arrived in Glasgow, Scotland. This particular tour stop, organised in collaboration with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), was held at Glasgow’s modern and dynamic Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU).

After the initial brief and lively opening by SCVO, an introduction to the BIHR was then given. This included a short quirky video, which displayed a timeline of events in relation to the way in which human rights initially became apparent and have increasingly developed over the years. A general education of Human Rights law was then further developed with a lecture type presentation followed by a group activity in which the views of a wonderfully diverse group of people were introduced.

 Human Rights are another tool in the toolbox, not a stand-alone thing.” Iain, tour attendee. 

DSC_0158Working in groups tackling very realistic case studies proved to be an extremely effective approach to addressing many of the issues relating to human rights in the UK today. This activity highlighted the complexities and challenges faced today when trying to implement such rights.

The afternoon commenced with discussion of human rights in the political debates surrounding the upcoming Scottish independence referendum. An informative and rather insightful speech was given on Scotland’s National Action Plan (SNAP) by the Scottish Human Rights Commission. As Scotland is a devolved democratic country with responsibility for health, education, housing, and care, it has important obligations and powers to ensure human rights are protected. It was brought to the attention of all attendees that the referendum will have a critical impact on human rights in Scotland and that it is imperative that Scotland maintains a human rights approach to moving forward.

The understanding of human rights, and particularly the political debates surrounding human rights related issues, can be more progressive in Scotland. This can mean there is less need for initial conversations regarding how to overcome negative perceptions about human rights. This allows more time to focus on a conversation about how we can make sure human rights are a part of everything we do and to also have more of a discussion on how we realise our rights.” Sophie Howes – BIHR

The afternoon was aptly concluded with group discussions on different ways the attendees work with human rights, and how related issues can be tackled. We reached a general consensus that the most significant challenges to the implementation of human rights today are the media’s caricature and distortion of human rights and a general lack of a fundamental education of such rights.

I think that more awareness raising is needed to inform people and empower them to claim their rights!” – Janco, BIHR tour attendee

As a law student and a volunteer for Unity Immigration Centre, (among a few other ongoing human rights related DSC_0146projects) I had almost ignorantly assumed my knowledge of human rights was more than a general understanding. This preconception was swiftly eradicated as the day progressed. The diversity of the attendees, their visible concern and keen participation, proved the day to be very motivating and somewhat inspirational for me in relation to my volunteering projects. The enthusiasm of all the speakers brought to my attention the effectiveness of such events and how they help not only to educate and raise awareness, but also to bring people together and promote active advocacy for human rights. Such rights are essential and they are a fundamental necessity for life but are unfortunately viewed by many as a mere luxury. Events such as the BIHR Human Rights Tour have a significant impact on such challenges faced today and provide the tools needed for progression towards a brighter tomorrow for human rights.

‘That’s No Right!’ – The View From Glasgow

By Guest Blogger: Lynn Pilkington, Press and Policy Officer, Glasgow Central CAB, at the Glasgow event, run in partnership with Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) and the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO)

When I was younger I was the girl with the red face stamping her feet and protesting ‘but that’s not fair!’ On Tuesday, gathered together in a seminar room in GDU, although now masked by maturity and smart-dress, I learned those around me were of the same breed.

Social justice – a passion that unites us

Those in attendance came from a variety of backgrounds – students, politicians, charity-workers, lecturers, advocates. Different motives led us to be there – work, intellectual stimulation, to get in lecturers’ good books (!) but all of us human beings in search of a society based on civil liberties and respect.

Those in attendance spoke with a common passion for social justice, a passion which fuels me in my policy work with Citizens Advice. A passion which I felt as a law student and member of the Amnesty Society. A passion which wakes me everyday desperate to right all the wrongs in the world.

Breaking down barriers of ‘otherness’

But, as we discussed in our afternoon session with lecturers from the GCU and SCVO Masters in Citizenship and Human Rights, frustration with the status quo needs to then be followed with action. In the closing remarks we heard urges for all of us to work together and pool resources to make the changes actually happen.

Earlier our group had discussed the importance of breaking down the barriers of ‘otherness’ that currently infest our society. We were dismayed by the disconnect between having respect for your neighbour and the burdensome connotations often attached to human rights. We discussed the importance of creative arts projects, such as the musical Glasgow Girls, and the local project Albert Drive, that binds citizens and crumbles prejudices from within.

Scotland the Brave?

Scotland itself was a recurring topic of the day. Some started the day with the belief that our country is greatly hospitable to human rights . As the day went on, however, and attendees from across the globe gave their views, we were humbled into realising we still have a lot of work to do on our culture of human rights. Social justice may not be currently ‘pouring out the taps like water’ but we did recognise that the collective Scottish instinct of ‘That’s no right!’ (a new campaign our discussion group founded that day), a great starting point.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission spoke of their action plan to turn our good intentions into good practice and howScotland bunting we could use the upcoming opportunity of the referendum, no matter the outcome, (although audience members from the ‘Yes’ campaign might have advocated otherwise) to carve a forward-looking, mature and human-rights based approach in Scotland.

The future?

After Tuesday I feel that my simmering passion is ripe to bring about practical change to bring society closer to social justice. Is this the idealism of youth? Or, perhaps, an overdue realism that we can no longer go on underrating the value of human rights? Watch this space.