5 things the 1998 Human Rights Act and the ECHR has done for us


We take a look at some examples of the Act

ONE story which has dominated the post-General Election fallout was the Tories’ plans to scrap the 1998 Human Rights Act and replace it with a British ‘Bill of Rights’ in an effort to distance UK courts from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

With human rights activists in addition to the Scottish Government pouring scorn over these plans, CommonSpace has drafted up a brief list of some of the steps that have been taken as a result of the Human Rights Act and the ECHR.

Fully abolished capital punishment

Although the last execution by hanging in Scotland took place in 1963, the death penalty was still enforceable up until 1998 for certain military offences in addition to treason. This was officially scrapped with the introduction of the 1998 Act.

The new justice secretary, Michael Gove, who is tasked with overseeing the replacement of the Human Rights Act once bemoaned the abolition of hanging while writing as a columnist in 1998, saying: “Hanging may seem barbarous, but the greater barbarity lies in the slow abandonment of our common law traditions.

“Were I ever alone in the dock I would not want to be arraigned before our flawed tribunals, knowing my freedom could be forfeit as a result of political pressures.

“I would prefer a fair trial, under the shadow of the noose.”

Ended invasive police “stop and search” methods

In 2009, The ECHR found that the UK Government’s stop and search powers under the 2000 Terrorism Act breached the public’s right to privacy.

Powers under the Act allowed the police to randomly search members of the public without any reasonable suspicion, causing undue distress to a protestor and photographer attending an ‘arms fair’ protest in 2003.

Allowed openly LGBTI to serve in the armed forces

Preceding the introduction of the 1998 Act, four military personnel were dismissed from the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy after their sexual orientation had been disclosed.

The High Court and Court of Appeal sympathised but were unable to overturn the ban on openly LGBTI people. It was only after the case was brought to Strasbourg that they eventually won a landmark case for LGBTI human rights in the UK.

Protected freedom of expression and journalistic sources

In 2009, the ECHR found that the forced disclosure of journalists’ sources was a disproportionate infringement of freedom of expression and would have an “chilling effect” on freedom of the press and protection of anonymous sources.

This came after The Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times, The Independent and Reuters were all ordered to divulge a source who leaked details of a proposed takeover bid of a South African brewery company.

Key aspect of the Good Friday Agreement

The Good Friday Agreement that brought about the end of the Troubles in Northern Ireland in 1998 hinged on several compromises between Republican and Loyalist parties.

The devolution of Human Rights legislation to Northern Ireland was seen as a key underpinning of the peace agreement. As such, the Tory plan to repeal the Human Rights Act has been roundly criticised.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams described them as a “scandalous attack” on the peace process.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Charie Flanagan said in a statement: “As a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government takes very seriously our responsibility to safeguard the Agreement.

“The fundamental role of human rights in guaranteeing peace and stability in Northern Ireland must be fully respected.”

Picture courtesy of Michael Coghlan