THE BLOG
02/10/2015 03:25 BST | Updated 01/10/2016 06:12 BST

Standing Up for Human Rights Is Not Just an Essential Part of Labour's Values - It's Part of Our Character and Identity as a Country

Today, we celebrate 15 years since the Human Rights Act came into force. It represented a massive constitutional change.

Instead of the most basic rights which protect our citizens being dependent on random developments in the law, or the willingness of the European Court of Human Rights to hear cases, defined Human Rights were incorporated into our own law, every citizen was empowered to enforce them in the British courts and the government had to comply with them in drafting laws and making decisions.

The impact of the Act has been felt by some of the most vulnerable people in our society: an elderly couple forced apart when one of them was taken into care, a family denied the truth when a young woman took her life after being bullied, a little boy who had his Disability Living Allowance taken away after he was admitted to hospital.

The citizen having a clear set of defined basic rights which the Executive can't tamper with is a non-negotiable part of the rule of law.

It is key that the State cannot seek to dilute or change the citizens' rights if those rights become inconvenient or unpopular.

It is impossible to envisage going back on the advance made by the Human Rights Act.

Yet today, it is under attack.

David Cameron and Michael Gove are planning to repeal the Act and replace it with a "British Bill of Rights".

This attack goes to the heart of what being protected by the law means in our country.

The Government says that the Act undermines the role of UK courts and the sovereignty of Parliament.

This is at best a misunderstanding and at worst a misrepresentation of the reality.

The Human Rights Act does not make the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights binding. The UK courts are the final arbiters of what our law, including human rights law, provides and there is no appeal from what they say.

Neither does the European Court have the ability to require the UK to change British laws - Parliamentary sovereignty remains intact. All it can do is determine whether there is a breach of the Convention--and if there is, it is for the UK Parliament to decide how to remedy the breach.

Ministers say they want to preserve and enhance the traditions of human rights.

But be under no illusion that their plans involve anything other than a reduction in rights.

Their proposals, published last year, include "clarifying" the rights of the Convention and limiting the use of human rights laws to "the most serious cases".

It is clear that when David Cameron talks about "British human rights" he means "the British Government's view of human rights". An Executive able to pick and choose the extent to which human rights apply is an illusory protection.

Our commitment to human rights matters here in the UK but it is equally important for people in the rest of the world, many of whom are still fighting for the rights we enjoy today.

If the UK Government can decide what human rights to tolerate and which to remove, that will provide a powerful precedent for other regimes around the world to dilute their human rights protections when they become inconvenient.

This is not only deplorable - it's dangerous.

Labour has a proud history championing the rights of ordinary people.

Some have said that our support for the Human Rights Act hasn't been clear, or strong, enough.

So I reiterate today what I said to Labour conference earlier this week: we will fight as hard as we can to protect and preserve the Human Rights Act and we will do everything in our power to stop the Government walking away from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Standing up for human rights is not just an essential part of Labour's values. It's part of our character and identity as a country.

Lord Falconer is the shadow Lord Chancellor and shadow justice secretary