Friday 15 October 2010

Human Rights in Divided Britain

The erosion of civil liberties, and the need to use the law more creatively and effectively to tackle social injustice and the forthcoming 'austerity agenda', were just some of the topics discussed during a barnstorming debate last night at the University of Cumbria, marking the 20th anniversary of the successful and forward-looking Cumbria Law Centre.

The public debate posed the question of whether the 1998 Human Rights Act was essential or a distraction in the struggle for social justice in Britain.  Former chair of the UK Law Centres Federation, and director of Kent University Law Clinic - the UK's oldest university law clinic - Professor John Fitzpatrick gave an inspirational speech on the erosion of civil liberty and freedom in the UK.

Professor Fitzpatrick highlighted the UCL Student Human Rights Programme's report, 'The Abolition of Freedom Act' (opens as PDF) which surveys the 25 Acts and 50 measures in recent years which have eroded our freedom, liberty and rights as citizens of the UK.  After considering the incredible struggle and loss suffered to secure our freedoms and liberty, Professor Fitzpatrick contrasted the heady days of 1966, with landmark cases such as Miranda v. Arizona and closer to home, Rice v. Connolly. In the pursuit of being protected by the State, had we ceded our freedom? If so, why had we allowed this to happen?

GLC's Mike Dailly suggested that there had never been a more important time in the post-war period to have a human rights framework incorporated into our domestic law. He argued that the role of law centres in the UK had never been more needed, as it would fall to solicitors and advisors to challenge the worst injustices thrown up by the Coalition Government’s austerity agenda. The Human Rights Act represented a vital tool in the tough struggle for social justice.  Mike argued that we needed more law centres in the UK, not less. Citizens needed a greater understanding, and empowerment, as regards their rights, with access to real remedies, and appropriate advice and representation.  Mike's speech is available online here.

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