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UK faith and belief leaders call on PM to protect Human Rights Act

The leaders of several faith and belief groups in the UK have warned of the Government “undermining the basis of all our freedoms” if the Human Rights Act is weakened through the review currently taking place.

The Government’s Independent Human Rights Act Review was launched early this year and a response to the report is expected at the end of the month. 

The Review will examine the framework of the Act – particularly the relationship between domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights – whether it is working in practice and will decide if any changes are needed.

However, this review has been warned against in a joint letter conducted by Amnesty International UK, Humanists UK, René Cassin (the Jewish voice for Human Rights) and Quakers in Britain.

In a joint letter to the Prime Minister, they said: “We believe different things about the world, our place in it, and how we should live. 

“But what we all hold in common is that human beings are imbued with inherent dignity which is protected by human rights.

“The Act has safeguarded our freedoms, including our freedom of thought, of belief, and of religion.

“Any move to weaken the Human Rights Act risks undermining the basis of all of our freedom and would be a marker on a very slippery slope. 

“For a United Kingdom based on decency, dignity and respect, we must keep our Human Rights Act as it is.”

At least six of the 68 signatories to the letter were from Manchester, including Bishop David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, Greater Manchester Humanists and the Social Group of Manchester.

One of the coordinators of the letter is Jewish Human Rights group René Cassin. 

Their chief executive Mia Hasenson-Gross said: “The Human Rights Act protects victims of crime, the wrongly accused, disabled people, the mistreated and the elderly.

“It has allowed countless people to pursue justice here in the UK and is an instrument founded on values which should be respected, not diminished.

“It also protects the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in very tangible ways.

“For example, in 2018 the High Court ruled that the Senior Coroner for inner London must consider fast tracking the cases of Jewish and Muslim people because these faiths require a burial take place on the day of their death or as soon as possible thereafter.”

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, which also worked on the letter said: “The Human Rights Act has been essential in bringing about change.

“It led to legal recognition of humanist weddings in Scotland in 2005 and Northern Ireland in 2018.

“The Humans Right Act is one of the foundational pieces of legislation in the UK.

“It upholds freedom of religion or belief for all. 

“Without it, ordinary citizens would not be able to secure our right to hold or manifest our beliefs, whether religious or humanist.

“We are concerned that the current review of the Act risks leading to its dilution. It must not.”

In an article for Church Times, Canon Mark Oakley, Dean of St John’s College, Cambridge warned that, although plans to ‘update’ the act sound “relatively innocent”, there are a raft of laws that may lead to the abuse of peoples’ rights.

For example, the Joint Committee of Human Rights (JCHR) has raised concerns that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will diminish an individual’s right to protest.

Certain clauses of the controversial bill would allow restrictions to be imposed on peaceful protests if they are too loud.

The proposed bill will increase the risk of peaceful demonstrators in England and Wales being criminalised.

“Kill the Bill” protests have been taking place across the country in the last few months.

The Manchester Amnesty International group has spent the last few weeks working on the open letter to Boris Johnson.

FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS: Amnesty International Manchester group previously campaigning on the Human Rights Act in 2016
Credit, Amnesty International, Manchester group

The local group told MM: “The Manchester group of Amnesty International strongly support the retention of the UK Human Rights Act in its current form and will be watching with interest the results of the Independent Review and the ensuing government response.”

Main photo credit: Steve Eason, Flickr –https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/51092374914/in/album-72157718894096575/

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