BIHR’s work to bring human rights to life in Mind’s membership magazine

Sanchita quote HR about us all


BIHR’s Deputy Director Sanchita Hosali was delighted to contribute to the 4-page human rights special in the latest edition of Mind’s Membership Magazine. The special feature takes a look at the Human Rights Act and how it protects people living with mental health problems from injustice and undignified treatment. As our Deputy Director Sanchita explains in the magazine “Human rights are about all of us, they are the basic protections that we should all have. When we give over power to people in positions of authority, human rights can help to give us power back.” 

Our real life stories on how the Human Rights Act helps in everyday life

Highlighting BIHR’s work with NHS Trusts and advocacy groups, including local Minds, the magazine features many of our real life stories on how the Human Rights Act is helping people with mental health issues across the country, simply by providing the language for discussion with services and not having to go to court. Our work helped Mary’s advocate to get her support once she left hospital to make sure her right to life was protected. Being able to talk about the right to liberty meant Amit was able to challenge nurses who kept telling him to stay on the ward even though he was entitled to leave and simply wanted to visit a local coffee shop. These and many other real life stories about the Human Rights Act supporting people living with mental health problems are explained in BIHR’s The Human Rights Act: Changing Lives and our highly acclaimed Mental Health Advocacy and Human Rights: Your Guide, a practical resource for service users and those assisting them.

Our advocacy guide, recently commended by the Care Quality Commission, was co-produced with partners on one of our Human Rights in Healthcare projects, including Mind at Brighton and Hove. As part of the project we helped the group to develop a human rights approach in their advocacy service, it’s great to see the continuing success of the project featured in the Mind Magazine. As Bill Turner, Advocacy Team leader, says “The team now regularly refers to specific rights when speaking to health professionals and service providers, and has invoked the HRA to raise concerns about physical abuse, the withdrawal of medication and the refusal to allow a patient to leave a ward.”

Working with mental health services: prevention rather than cure

The magazine also features BIHR’s work with NHS Trusts to practice prevention rather than cure a put human rights at the heart of services. For example we support Mersey Care NHS Trust to integrate human rights into learning disability and mental health services. This has included innovate work to support staff and to involve patients and carers in decisions, including issues about risk and how the service is run. As Irene Burns-Watts, Service Director, says in the magazine: “What is really powerful is how we have begun to translate human rights into people’s everyday care: supporting people with humanity, dignity and respect. We are beginning to see results, including a reduction in incidents and in the use of both restraint and medication”

Standing up for human rights

The article also looks at hoSanchita explain HRw human rights tend to get a bad press in the UK, with politicians often quick to criticise them. Sanchita explains how this is hardly surprising given that our rights are designed to limit those with power. She also discusses how suggestions that we should alter human rights laws are unhelpful, and what is needed is a genuine debate to increase understanding of human rights: “Before we talk about getting rid of the Human  Rights Act or changing it, let’s look at what it’s really doing.” Sanchita flags up our Annual Human Rights Tour, free pop-up events across the country which give people a place to get information about human rights, to debate and discuss what they really mean, and how this leads to very different conversations. Find out more about bidding for the 2014 Tour to come to your town this Autumn here.

Find our more

You can find out more about what Mind does and becoming a member, including receiving your own regular copy of the full Membership News here.

You can find out more about BIHR’s projects with partner organisations such as Mind Brighton by checking out our Human Rights in Healthcare Project pages here. Our latest resource features lots of real stories, The Difference It Makes: Putting Human Rights at the Heart of Health and Care, is available here. Finally, if you are living with mental health problems or supporting someone who is get your copy of BIHR’s Mental Health Advocacy and Human Rights: Your Guide here.

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.

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.

Three Years on and Human Rights are Alive and Well in Belfast!

Guest Blogger- Peter McReynolds

At its most basic level human rights are standards for the state to follow to ensure dignity is ensured for all, regardless of race, gender, creed and sexuality. Having obtained a Masters in human rights law in 2012, I have seen the complexities that exist within an overarching set of principles that try to influence and guide the 190+ states making up our world today.

It is within this setting that myself and a group of participants from a variety of backgrounds, had the pleasure of attending the BIHR Human Rights Tour on the 26th of September 2013. Belfast was the 8th leg of 17 and it was great to see us so high on the list with our eyes focused on the future and not the past! The event itself provided a fascinating opportunity to brush up on our knowledge and learn new skills that could be applied in our respective fields. Having attended events like this before, I was expecting a similar experience of presentations followed by general discussion. However, what made this event stand out, was the inclusion of real stories from ‘the field’ and an overall bringing together of the variety of experiences across the United Kingdom.

Togetherness is something that can be forgotten about in the U.K today, and in the so called ‘age of austerity’, it is something we should perhaps remember more often. This was apparent from the beginning of the event which brought together a variety of sectors to strengthen the audience.  There were representatives from the public sector, third sector, academics, local community groups and myself, representing The Green Party in Northern Ireland; a party committed to human rights and social justice. The beginning was dedicated to establishing a common ground for us to work within by understanding the key human rights laws at an international, regional and local level. As well as this, we learnt more about the instruments that offer redress to victims of human rights abuses. In the case of Northern Ireland, this was the Human Rights Act and the European Court of Human Rights. The latter being a Court that Northern Ireland knows well, given that so many cases from the region was brought there to set precedent.

A second significant conflict that was addressed at the event and challenged us as passionate individuals was the idea of law vs. practice.  We listened to two excellent presentations by the Equality Coalition, a body which strives to ensure equality of opportunity for all in Northern Ireland, and the Participation and Practice of Rights Project (PPR), a grass roots organisation from Belfast, working to protect the marginalised. Two separate bodies which operate on two different sides of the same coin. The PPR representative praised the work of the Equality Commission, but also reminded us that human rights aren’t just something which secures rights, but allows them to be fought for every day. Indeed, this was food for thought for myself, as human rights can be seen in an abstract manner within academia and it is all too easy to forget what it is we are trying to achieve.

The day was brought to a close with case studies and reflections upon the future for human rights in Northern Ireland. The case studies operated as a vital reminder of the abuses that can be allowed to occur in economic down turn. Moreover, they served as an important catalyst for the stressing of a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland. This potential document, which has failed to materialise 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement, is more required than ever. It is something the audience felt inspired to listen to, and has inspired me to become more involved in raising the argument for all to hear, in my daily life!

In short, the day was a thought provoking success. The organisers prepared a day which was insightful, informative and engaging. Moreover, they succeeded in their aim to end the day with attendees leaving the event inspired by what we had seen and heard. I was one of them, someone who is aware that things are starting to get better from the top down, but being fought for from the bottom up. Whilst bringing rights to life in Belfast may be a slow process, three years after the BIHR Human Rights Tour first visited, it’s clear that the enthusiasm is alive and well in Belfast!

Human Rights Tour Stop #6: I soon realised the day was really relevant to my day job at a housing association

Guest Blogger: Amy Lythgoe – Trustee Refugee Welcome Trust / Digital Marketing Manager: Bolton at Home

On one of those days where you’re wondering why you’re spending your day off at a Human Rights seminar, the availability of reasonable priced parking outside the door of the venue was the first hint that this would be a good day.

Realising human rights are about my work

At the initial refreshments, where that “first day of school” feeling can so easily creep back in, I was instantly made to feel at ease with the people who joined me at my table. It was refreshing to meet people from a range of backgrounds who were all really passionate about their jobs. Having initially signed up for the seminar with my work with refugees in mind I soon realised that the content was also really relevant to my ‘day job’ at a housing association.

Having worked with people whose fundamental human rights have so grossly abused, forcing them to seek asylum in the UK I had never really considered the day to day importance of the rights that we are all afforded.

 Lots of learning with lots of interaction

Despite describing myself as having a ‘reasonable’ knowledge of human rights prior to the sessions I quickly revised this DSC_0101appraisal. My knowledge was so restricted to one sector and the abuse of people’s human rights abroad I hadn’t really fully understood their reach in UK legislation and how we all go about our lives not appreciating them enough.

With such a complex and controversial subject the facilitators did a fantastic job of keeping the day on message and moved easily from broad politics to detailed case studies. Having a short attention span and an appetite for a bit of debate the discussion sessions were really interesting and I learnt a lot from the fantastic experience of the people in the room.

Along with some others in the group the biggest shock was that private companies rarely have legal obligations to protect the human rights of those they interact with. The contrast was most stark in the care home examples where those self -funding their place with a private healthcare provider had no basis on which to challenge human rights violations (this is something BIHR has been campaigning to change). Whereas those with state funded places at private homes would be able to challenge decision making if they felt it infringed their human rights.

Running a charity that allows UK refugees to exercise their legally protected ‘right to family life’ under Article 8 I thought I had this particular right under my belt so to speak. Discussions following the case studies revealed that this non-absolute right this is one which often has most relevance in people’s lives, especially as the ‘privacy’ it protects is not just about having a private space it’s also about having a say on what happens to your body. With the event partnered by and taking place within Liverpool Women’s Hospital (the largest of its kind in Europe), this was especially thought-provoking.

The media and politicians: it’s protecting human rights that matters

With politicians bandying round the idea of repealing the UK Human Rights Act it seems that now more than ever we all DSC_0109need to understand how significant these rights are to each and every one of us. It was encouraging to hear that there had been two youth sessions on this tour and perhaps it’s with the next generation we need to be challenging the negative perception of human rights pushed by the UK press.

The day was fantastic in terms of widening my understanding of human rights in the UK and has definitely encouraged me to read more about the subject and renewed an interest in legal process and precedent.

However I think what I came to realise most was that the 18 rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (and part of our law via the Human Rights Act) are unarguably what we should be doing – it’s how we go about protecting them that matters.


Wolverhampton Wondering: The Tour Heads to the Midlands

By: Guest Blogger Katie Simkins

From 9:30am, locals from Wolverhampton, Walsall and Birmingham arrive at the Workspace for the fifth event of BIHR’s Human Rights Tour. It aims to take a simple message to every corner of the UK: the Human Rights Act need not be the domain of lawyers. It is for local people in local situations. That’s why, today, members of the local council, the police, and voluntary organisations concerned with issues ranging from domestic violence to mental health, fill the room. For each leg of the Tour, BIHR teams up with a local organisation to make the workshop relevant to its immediate surroundings. The partner for today’s event is Unison West Midlands.DSC_0089

At the outset, we are invited to have honest and frank conversations about human rights and their relevance to our work and life. In the current climate of an ageing population, debilitating public sector cuts and high-profile scepticism of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), these debates are crucial. Politicians, the media and the general public react to human rights with praise, scorn and confusion. This room is no exception. On post-it notes, we write down what human  rights mean to us. Within minutes, the board is littered with ‘abstract’, ‘misunderstanding’, ‘controversial’ and ‘fundamental’.

We separate into different groups for the next task: case studies. Here, each group looks at different individuals who have been subject to neglect, maltreatment or injustice. We discover quickly that the application of human rights is complex. One group looks at the case of Stella, who is severely disabled, cannot dress herself and, as she cannot access the first floor of her house, cannot put her children to bed. This group mulls over how long the local council must fail to amend Stella’s care plan until it breaches one of the most fundamental provisions in the Human Rights Act: the right not to be tortured or suffer inhuman or degrading treatment. Another group asks whether the police, in its attempt to keep a protest under control, are within their rights to ask a journalist to stop filming. For me, this task is the most crucial of the day as it demonstrates that the Human Rights Act has brought justice to individuals in varied places and situations.

Most poignantly, many of us around the room make links between these case studies and situations we have come across in our work. To know that the Human Rights Act is another tool with which we can address inequality, unfairness and abuse is hugely comforting. A further comfort comes when we discuss the institutions that have a duty to carry out the Human Rights Act. We learn that since its implementation in 2000, all organisations carrying out a public function must incorporate human rights into their decisions. This applies just as much to private institutions that are commissioned to provide a public function, such as care homes, as it does to the police or social services.  Moreover, the Human Rights Act places a positive obligation on public authorities, to take steps to protect an individual from known abuse. For example, although domestic violence may take place within a private home, a public authority would have an obligation to take positive steps to try and protect someone from such abuse, once it becomes aware of the situation. In this light, human rights are there if we need them; they are a safety net for us all.

DSC_0083After a quick lunch in a small café in the back of a curtain shop (one of the most unusual lunch stops on the Tour I’m told!) these empowering thoughts are flattened somewhat by the afternoon sessions, in which we look at what the media and politicians are saying about human rights. After learning in this morning’s sessions that the Human Rights Act ensures that politicians cannot act without restraint or checks on their power, I am rather unsympathetic towards their frustration about it. We explore some of the negative and misleading headlines that the media has published about human rights. We learn that, although newspapers gave a huge amount of attention to the tragedies at Mid Staffordshire Hospital, the coverage failed to mention that the families who lost loved ones were granted justice due to their use of the Human Rights Act.

I learn that the UK’s furore about human rights is quite exceptional compared to the 46 other states that are signed up to the ECHR. Easily forgotten is the fact that the Act has only been incorporated into UK law for 13 years. Thus, the optimist in me hopes that all this debate is just part of its teething process. I for one look forward to a time when the Human Rights Act is ingrained into our society. I leave Wolverhampton knowing that it is now more than ever that we have to look out for injustices and negotiate with public services to ensure that human rights are respected and protected within our communities.

Heading North: The Human Rights Tour Goes to Blackpool

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).DSC_0073

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.

DSC_0077The 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.