Category Archives: Human Rights

Jim Wallace: The Human Rights Act is symbolic of our country’s commitment to openness, tolerance and the rule of law

Lord Wallace of Tankerness
Lord Wallace of Tankerness

My Lords, for decades, as a Liberal and Liberal Democrat candidate and MP, I supported campaigns to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into our domestic law. “Bringing Rights Home” was our call, and so understandably I welcomed the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998. However, it never occurred to me during all these years of campaigning that I would be the first government Minister in the United Kingdom to be on the wrong end of a decision under that Act—yet that is what happened on 11 November 1999.

As Justice Minister in the newly established Scottish Government, I had inherited a sheriff court administration which relied on temporary sheriffs to keep the system in working order. However, the Scottish Appeal Court ruled that because the Lord Advocate was involved both in their reappointment, or not, and was also head of the Public Prosecution Service in Scotland, temporary sheriffs could not be regarded as sufficiently independent of the Executive that an accused might have a fair hearing before an “independent and impartial tribunal”. As a result, I was forced to suspend every temporary sheriff in Scotland overnight.

I am not going to pretend: on that day I would much rather that the case had been won. Losing put significant pressure on resources and made for a time the operation of our sheriff courts more difficult. But here is the thing: in the cold light of day, the court was right. What was happening was wrong and, because of the Human Rights Act, it was put right. For all the difficulties this decision caused me, officials and, indeed, the public, I would rather live in a country were there is such a human rights check over decisions and actions of Ministers and the Executive than in a country where Ministers and the Executive can ride roughshod over basic human rights. This, I believe, shows the value of the Human Rights Act. As Liberal Democrats, we on these Benches are instinctively suspicious of government. We believe that the state has the power to improve people’s lives—but, equally, the power to damage them. Such power should not operate in a vacuum. There must be a check on the ability of the state to wield its power, even when its actions are carried out with the best of intentions, and there must be a check to protect individual citizens against the arbitrary use of state power.

This debate is about the challenges facing the culture of human rights and civil liberties in our country. My experiences as a Minister both in Scotland and in the coalition Government have given me some understanding of those challenges and the difficulties of balancing interests that sometimes compete with human rights and civil liberties, not least the need to keep the public safe. I do not pretend that it is always easy. The appalling events in Tunisia last Friday and our response to them have once again thrown into sharp focus the challenge of balancing liberty and security in an age when terrorism stalks the globe. The Prime Minister rightly argues that, armed with our values of justice, democracy, liberty and tolerance, we will prevail over hateful intolerance and its evil manifestations. But the challenge is to ensure that in doing so we do not undermine the very values that we cherish and seek to uphold.

Continue reading Jim Wallace: The Human Rights Act is symbolic of our country’s commitment to openness, tolerance and the rule of law

Jim Wallace: Tory pledge on Human Rights Act ‘could plunge this country into a legal and constitutional crisis’ (via Politics Home)

Lord Wallace of Tankerness
Lord Wallace of Tankerness

During my time as Deputy First Minister of Scotland, I had the somewhat doubtful distinction of becoming the first government minister in the UK to be on the wrong end of a decision under the Human Rights Act. As a result I know first-hand of the value of that Act in giving British citizens the ability to challenge the state. The state has the power to improve people’s lives, but also the power to damage them. Such power should not operate in a vacuum – there must be a check on the state. The Human Rights Act provides this very powerful safeguard.

As the debate on the future of the Act progresses, it is essential that we do not focus only on the philosophical importance of our rights and freedoms, but that we also concentrate on the very real way in which the Human Rights Act has protected individual citizens against the arbitrary use of state power.

The full article is available here

Lindsay Northover calls on African communities to end FGM in a generation

Baroness Northover
Baroness Northover

African communities in the UK will receive support to strengthen campaigns to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) through a new scheme backed by the Department for International Development (DFID) in collaboration with The Girl Generation, Lib Dem Development Minister Baroness Northover has announced.

Voluntary and community African groups in the UK are being invited to bid for new grants to support their campaigns to end FGM in their countries of origin.

Continue reading Lindsay Northover calls on African communities to end FGM in a generation

Lindsay Northover: Born whole – being a woman in Sudan

Baroness Northover
Baroness Northover

Small faces may look up at me equally quizzically as I visit a maternity hospital in Sudan. But from these first moments, the path for a girl is mapped out differently from that for a boy.

And that has included the very control that the girl child may have over her own body. She does not decide. She must remain pure. Not to do so is regarded as a great dishonour to her and her family. But the way that purity is to be secured and established is to cut her body.

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is practised by many communities and ethnic groups across Sudan, often on girls aged around 5. In popular Arabic language, it is called ‘tahur’, meaning purity and cleanliness. Uncut women are generally viewed as impure and unmarriageable.

According to official figures from 2007, 89% of women and girls in Sudan aged 15-49 had undergone some form of FGM/C, one of the highest rates in the world. Estimates made during 2013 suggest that this figure may have fallen by 3% to 86%, but the data is scarce.

If they have indeed fallen, this is in large part due to a pioneering approach in Sudan, supported by DFID, called ‘Saleema’. This is a unique initiative combining innovative communication techniques with a large scale dialogue about changing social norms around uncut girls.

The full article can be read here

Letter of the Lords – 19 January 2015

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Lindsay Northover: My visit to the UK’s busiest FGM clinic

Baroness Northover
Baroness Northover

Yesterday I returned to a hospital where I worked many years ago. I used to gaze across the Thames from the window at St Thomas’ to the Houses of Parliament, not knowing they would have much direct relevance to me. More particularly, I used to watch the barges plying up and down the river. What was never on my mind, because I did not know about it, was female genital mutilation (FGM). But now I do. And that owes much to those whom I met today, and to those who have battled on this cause for years, to rid the world of FGM within a generation.

One of those women is Comfort Momoh, an FGM Consultant and Public Health Specialist who back in 1997 established the African Well Woman’s Clinic at Guy’s and St Thomas’. Today this is the busiest FGM clinic in the UK, seeing up to 400 women a year, undertaking reversals, delivering infants, and advising other clinics round the country. Comfort is still at the helm – and as she explained, to many women her very name was a reassurance to them. It seemed right that on my first FGM visit as International Development Minister, it was to Comfort and her clinic that I should go.

The full blog is here


Dee Doocey: Protecting children should be at the centre of the fight against slavery

Baroness Doocey
Baroness Doocey

According to the US State Department at a global level people trafficking ranks as the third largest source of income for organised crime, coming after only drugs and the arms trade.

So as someone who has campaigned over many years to highlight the significance of human trafficking, especially of children, it is obviously welcome that we finally have a Bill recognising the shocking reality of modern day slavery going through Parliament.

Today is the Second Reading of the Modern Slavery Bill in the House of Lords, with the Bill having already passed most of its stages in the Commons.

However, my starting point is that as it currently stands the Bill is set only to be a good Bill, not a great Bill. It has far too many loopholes within it, and it fails to set a proper standard for the rest of the world.

Full article here