15 years ago today our Human Rights Act came into force, setting out the basic rights and freedoms for all people in the UK. Back then our Human Rights Act (HRA) was seen as a fairly uncontroversial piece of law. At the time political parties across the spectrum wished it well on its passage from Parliament. For example, the Conservatives noted:
"Although we have opposed aspects of the Bill, we now wish it well and hope that it will be implemented effectively, to the benefit of the citizenry as a whole." Sir Nicholas Lyell, Shadow Attorney General, 1998
Fast forward to today and the Prime Minister has committed to "scrap" our Human Rights Act and has not ruled out leaving the European Convention on Human Rights. For Mr Cameron "it's about making sure the British Parliament is accountable to the British people and British judges make decisions in British courts". This despite the fact the Human Rights Act was carefully drafted to respect parliamentary sovereignty and it neatly ensures that Parliament has the final say (not the courts) - a model which has been replicated internationally. And added to this, the Human Rights Act doesn't require our courts to follow European Court of Human Rights rulings, an idea suggested by the Conservative party but rejected by Parliament during the debates.
Reading some of the current rhetoric you've probably seen the oft-repeated phrase "Labour's Human Rights Act", a clever attempt to re-write history. Not only erasing the Conservative party's well wishes, this ignores that the rights themselves were drafted by prominent Conservative lawyer (and later Home Secretary) Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, having been inspired by Winston Churchill. Although it was the Labour government under Tony Blair who introduced the Human Rights Bill to Parliament, he had previously written in opposition to bills of rights and specifically wanted a model that didn't overturn Parliamentary Sovereignty.
The (then) Labour government's approach to the Human Rights Act was all about "bringing rights home", by incorporating the rights from the European Convention on Human Rights, to allow British judges to make decisions in British courts. Sound familiar? Today, the Labour party find themselves having to stand firm on what was once seen as a flagship law. But let's not forget that when in power Labour soon fell out of love with the Human Rights Act, once it started to do its job and hold them to account when they overstepped the mark (remember detention without charge?).
With so many myths and misrepresentations about the Human Rights Act floating around the public debates, we at the British Institute of Human Rights are taking a step back from the noise and rhetoric, reflecting on what 15 years of the HRA has meant for the UK - for our democracy and in our everyday lives. Whether that is helping victims of sexual violence get justice for failures in police investigations, protecting older people from abuse, stopping drastic cuts to care packages for disabled people or supporting hospitals, local councils, housing associations and care homes to deliver better services.
Whilst many of us will never need to rely on the HRA it is there working in the background, making sure power is exercised fairly and respectfully. So today, to mark its 15th anniversary, we launch a series of blogs on the Huffington Post and our 15 Days of Action site to shine a spotlight on the positive impact of the HRA. Over the next 15 days we will be looking at each year of the HRA with stories on what the HRA has meant for our democracy, for our public services and the difference it has made to people's lives. We will feature guest blogs as well as commentary from BIHR staff on landmark moments in the HRA's history. So if like us you'd like to mark this anniversary, you can get involved in our 15 Days of Action, through our events or joining the conversation on social media #HRA15.