- As Britain prepares for Brexit, the government eyes up another target – the European Convention on Human Rights.
Amnesty International has warned of a ‘giant leap backwards’ as the UK orders a review of the Human Rights Act.
And they’ve highlighted how the act has helped protect and advance the rights of LGBT+ people.
The act – which dates from 1998 – incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.
Britain’s membership of the convention is separate to its membership of the European Union which will finally finish at the end of this year when the Brexit transition period is over.
However, some politicians in the ruling Conservative party also want to leave the convention and its control by the European Court of Human Rights. Many key British LGBT+ rights have been won in that court.
Now the UK government has appointed judge Sir Peter Gross to lead a review of the Human Rights Act.
Amnesty International director Kate Allen said:
‘Tearing up the Human Rights Act would be a giant leap backwards. It would be the single biggest reduction in rights in the history of the UK.
‘It took ordinary people a very long time to win these rights and we mustn’t let politicians take them away with the stroke of a pen.
‘This looks worryingly like the latest power-grabbing move from a government that doesn’t like limits on its powers or judges who tell them when they break the law.
‘What the government is proposing is also a gift to tyrants the world over. How can the UK call on other countries to respect human rights protections and legal responsibilities if they are busy ripping up the rule book at home?’
How Europe has won LGBT+ rights for the UK
The European Court of Human Rights has frequently been instrumental in delivering vital rights in the UK.
For example, gay male sex remained a crime in Northern Ireland until activist Jeff Dudgeon from Belfast brought a case in the court against the UK government.
That case saw homosexuality decriminalized in Northern Ireland. But it also set a precedent that ultimately saw the Council of Europe insist none of its 47 member states could make gay male or lesbian sex illegal.
Years later, in 1999, the European Court of Human Rights also ruled the UK couldn’t ban gay and bi people from serving openly in the armed forces. As the courts’ judgements apply to all member states, it also was a pivotal decision for LGBT+ people across Europe.
The UK’s Human Rights Act made it easier for British citizens to bring cases to the Supreme Court in London rather than having to appeal them to the European Court in Strasbourg.
One particular Supreme Court victory was vital for establishing equal rights for same-sex couples.
It saw the court rule in favor of Juan Godin-Mendoza, a gay man who proved that he had as much right to take over a protected tenancy after the death of his partner as the survivor of a married or cohabiting heterosexual couple.
Over 177,000 people have called for the UK to retain the Human Rights Act by signing Amnesty International’s online petition.