The Human Rights Act of 1998 gives legal effect in the UK to the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. These rights not only impact matters of life and death, they also affect the rights you have in your everyday life: what you can say and do, your beliefs, your right to a fair trial and other similar basic entitlements.
Most rights have limits to ensure that they do not unfairly damage other people’s rights. However, certain rights – such as the right not to be tortured – can never be limited by a court or anybody else.
You have the responsibility to respect other people’s rights, and they must respect yours.
Your human rights are:
• the right to life
• freedom from torture and degrading treatment
• freedom from slavery and forced labour
• the right to liberty
• the right to a fair trial
• the right not to be punished for something that wasn’t a crime when you did it
• the right to respect for private and family life
• freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom to express your beliefs
• freedom of expression
• freedom of assembly and association
• the right to marry and to start a family
• the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights and freedoms
• the right to peaceful enjoyment of your property
• the right to an education
• the right to participate in free elections
• the right not to be subjected to the death penalty
Human rights law prohibits the use of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This not only includes prohibiting a state from itself torturing or ill-treating a person, it includes a prohibition on ‘out-sourcing’ torture. ‘Extraordinary rendition’ refers to the deliberate apprehension and transfer of detainees to foreign countries for interrogation, outside of the law, where there is a risk that the person might be tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment. The practice of extraordinary rendition is seen by some as an affront to the rule of law as it operates well outside the law and lacks any transparency and accountability. One aspect of UK complicity in torture is past attempts to use information gained by torture in legal cases. This contravenes the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which explicitly forbids the use of such ‘evidence’ in legal proceedings.
In December 2005, in a case Liberty intervened in, the House of Lords confirmed that the use of evidence derived from torture was unlawful, regardless of who carried out the torture. It held that the ban on torture and other forms of ill-treatment is absolute and cannot be opted out of. The use of ‘evidence’ that might have been obtained in violation of that ban is therefore unlawful.
In recent years a number of people who have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco and elsewhere have alleged that UK officials knew of their ill-treatment and not only did nothing to prevent it, but actively assisted their abusers.
The High Court has found in relation to Mr Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee. UK security services helped US authorities interrogate Mr Mohamed although they knew that he was being detained in isolation and in conditions that could be deemed ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’.
There is also evidence that UK officials may have passed on information to their American counterparts which was then used in abducting and subjecting people to extraordinary rendition and in interrogations.
In July 2010 the Coalition Government announced an inquiry into the mistreatment of detainees abroad and the extent of UK knowledge.
Courtesy of Lee Bryant, Director of Sixth Form, Anglo-European School, Ingatestone, Essex