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Bianca Jagger demystifies claims that plague the Human Rights Act

Ms Jagger speaks at Birkbeck School of Law’s Patrick McAuslan Lecture

“The need to stand up for the Human Rights Act has never been more urgent,” Bianca Jagger told a gathered audience at Birkbeck School of Law’s Patrick McAuslan Lecture on Friday, November 6.

As the Conservative Party plan to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, Ms Jagger’s timely lecture aimed to demystify claims that plague the legislation and put it in context of its centuries-long history.

Quoting Dr James Sweeney, of the Human Rights Centre at Durham University, she said: “Even with its chequered past of slavery and colonialism, the UK has a long history of thinking about civil liberties”. Creating a Bill of Rights in 12 weeks, added Ms Jagger, is no replacement.

Ms Jagger, whose career in human rights campaigning spans three decades, emphasised the achievement of human rights legislation, which pioneered the rights of women, illegitimate children and gay people.

The Tories’ plans, she argued, “will undo centuries of progress and impact the most vulnerable”, adding that she believes it sends a message to the world that it is “okay” to ignore human rights.

Reminding the audience of the Act’s purpose as a declaration of rights and duties, Bianca refuted Tory arguments that the Act undermines national sovereignty and law-making powers.

She said: “The UK actually has the lowest level of cases heard at the European Court of Human Rights compared to other European countries. One in 70 cases are heard, with a 1 in 200 chance of success.”

Touching on the widely publicised case of the Bolivian immigrant who, according to several news outlets, was granted asylum to remain in the UK with his pet cat, Ms Jagger told the audience “the cat is out the bag”.

The Home Office, she said, lost at trial because it failed to pay enough consideration to the asylum seeker’s existing life in the UK in its prosecuting arguments.

A more pervasive message was at the heart of the lecture. As the government pushes through the Investigatory Powers Bill to curb privacy rights and escalate powers of state surveillance, human rights are needed more than ever, she argued.

Ms Jagger received a standing ovation from the audience. Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK, took to the stage to encourage people to take part in the “Save the Human Rights Act Campaign”.

Human rights, Ms Allen said, “are not a transient idea to be removed by the government of the day.”

Formerly the Annual Law Lecture, the Patrick McAuslan lecture invites eminent socio-legal scholars to discuss a legal issue in modern society. The lecture commemorates the late Prof Patrick McAuslan, a founding member of the School of Law.

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