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11 May 2007

Human Rights

Shami Chakrabarti gives her view on how things have changed in the realm of civil liberties.

By Shami Chakrabarti

The Blair legacy is mixed and even contradictory when it comes to human rights.

The Human Rights Act, however under-promoted and misunderstood, is nonetheless our modern Bill of Rights – an optimistic and inspirational piece of first-term legislation.

Similarly, legislation furthering sexuality and race equality promoted modern democratic values that are simultaneously British, European and truly universal.

Yet long before 9/11 and the misnamed and ill-fated “War on Terror, Mr Blair was impatient with the implications of rights, freedoms and the Rule of Law. Judges were remote Dickensian figures wedded to outmoded nonsense like the presumption of innocence.

Whether the subject was terrorism, asylum or “anti-social behaviour”, the “rules of the game” were always changing.

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Free speech and peaceful protest, rights to personal privacy and fair trials – these principles have all been seriously eroded by rafts of new laws born of the press release rather than the green paper. Even the rule against torture has started to look a little less absolute.

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Excuses for Guantanamo and “extraordinary rendition”, arguments that human rights laws don’t bind British forces in Iraq and the desire to deport undesirables to Algeria and Libya seem a long way from the 1997 promise to “bring rights home”.