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Human Rights Laws: Are they Fit for Purpose?

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This has been submitted by Bowden Jones Solicitors 

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, Prime Minister Theresa May has explained that her wish is to “rip up” human rights laws should they “stop us” from defeating terrorism.

Many have criticised her statement as an attempt to deflect the attention away from cuts such as those involving reductions to policing and security budgets.

The question is whether or the human rights laws are affecting the prosecution of terrorists within the UK or if these comments are merely a distraction exercising for the PM as we approach the General Election.

What are the current human rights laws in the UK?

Under the Human Rights Act 1998, rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) must be adhered to by the UK government and are enforceable in our courts.

In addition to issues such as the right to marry, the ECHR also covers core civil liberties, including the rights to a fair trial “within a reasonable time”. It also bans torture and degrading treatment and also protects individuals against unlawful arrest and detention.

Article 15 of the ECHR allows the UK to depart from parts of the convention in “time of emergency” in respect of Article 5, the right to liberty and security, writes BBC legal correspondent Clive Coleman.

What does this all have to do with terrorism?

The United Kingdom has a long history of tensions between human rights law and counter-terrorism laws, which usually restrict an individual’s freedoms.

Following the 9/11 attacks in New York, a series of counter-terrorism measures were introduced by the UK with the intention of ensuring suspected militants could be easily detained.

However, they were deemed unlawfully discriminatory by the courts for only targeting non-UK citizens.

Teresa May, who was Home Secretary at the time, faced a stand-off with the courts over the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada overs concerns about whether he would receive a fair trial in his home country of Jordan.

What has Theresa May proposed?

The PM is proposing to introduce tougher sentences for those convicted of terror offences, to make it easier to deport foreign suspects and, reports The Sun.  In particular, to allow suspects to be held by the police without charge for 28 days.  This doubles the current time scale of 14 days.

“If our human rights laws stop us from doing [this], we’ll change the laws so we can do it”, she said.