The Human Rights Act (HRA) has a key place in Jewish hearts.
It allows for freedom of our religion and expression. It provides protection for asylum seekers reminiscent of the protection needed by Jewish refugees in the late 1930s. It enables us to call out hate crime against Jews and against other minorities such as Gypsies, Roma and Travellers who share a common experience of the Holocaust.
But it is not just that the HRA can protect us as Jews and others experiencing discrimination and inhumane treatment. It is also that the modern human rights framework (of which the HRA is a part) came out of the Holocaust. The importance that “never again” would individuals suffer at the hands of the state in this way and that people had human rights just for being human.
So when in December 2020 the Government announced a review of the HRA, we at René Cassin knew how we had to respond.
The review has been coming for a while now. For the past decade, the Conservative party has stated in its manifestos that it would scrap the HRA. During the coalition government this proved impossible as the Liberal Democrats would not agree. During the subsequent government this was put on hold due to all things Brexit. By the 2019 manifesto, the term had changed to update the HRA.
Despite preoccupation with both Brexit and Covid-19, this review of the HRA is now going ahead. However, this is not the overarching review looking at the rights enshrined in the HRA that we were expecting. It is a very focused, very technical review of the mechanisms underlying the workings of the Act. It appears to be aimed at reducing the strength of the HRA. Reading between the lines, the government seems concerned that the processes of the HRA give too much power to the courts rather than to parliament.
In our response to the Independent HRA Review, René Cassin states clearly the ways in which the HRA is important to the Jewish community, how it resonates with our Jewish values and history and how we want it to stay intact. In line with many other human rights and equality charities, we think the HRA is working fine and is an important safeguard to keep. I hate cliches, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Our submission is a result of careful internal discussions and consultations with other organisations such as Equally Ours and BIHR, to ensure our submission is clear in its message to government to leave the HRA alone.
Because this is an issue that strikes at the heart of both our uniquely Jewish and our universal sensibilities.