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?
On 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 information, 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.)