Considering the traditional protections against the state that the individual has enjoyed in this country, I would mention off the top of my head; the right to a jury trial; the presumption of innocence; habeas corpus; the right to remain silent; the protection against double jeopardy; the right to self-defence.
I ask you; which of these was introduced by New Labour’s Human Rights Act? Of course, the answer is none. Rather these protections were established, through struggle and sacrifice, many centuries ago, notwithstanding how often they have been imperfectly upheld.
Not only do these protections predate the Human Rights Act, the very people so proud to have authored that legislation were during their time in government undermining and dismantling these age-old protections. It was New Labour that abolished the rule against double jeopardy and tried to limit jury trials. It was New Labour that sought to extend the period of incarceration without trial to three months, as well as implementing the European Arrest Warrant, both of which measures constitute a direct attack on habeas corpus. In all manner of ways, New Labour showed contempt for these traditional protections.
It should not be forgotten for a moment that this same contempt runs through our new government, as it ran through the government that preceded New Labour. As ever the case, only on the fringes of the major parties do you find people prepared to defend these rights, or recognise their significance, and it is upon these people we must depend to hold back the tide of authoritarian legislation.
It seems now the government is backing off its plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, wary that it may not be able to make up the numbers in Parliament. To the extent that this indicates the weakness of the government, it is a good thing. As the above indicates, I do not believe that the Human Rights Act is necessary to protect our freedom. Rather, the degree to which it serves any purpose marks the degree to which our old and better rights have been taken from us.