A Labour government would extend rather than restrict human rights legislation, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has pledged.
In a passionate defence of the Human Rights Act at a fringe event of the Labour party conference yesterday, Khan described human rights as ‘one of the UK’s best exports’.
The former lawyer promised to fight Conservative attempts to abolish the Human Rights Act or walk away from the European Convention on Human Rights – and in the event of Labour winning the General Election, he promised to add to human rights legislation rather than dilute it.
‘We want to extend human rights for [sexual abuse] victims in Rochdale, for example,’ he said.
‘Every year people should come to parliament and say what impact human rights have had on their area. We should not be embarrassed of saying it.’
Khan said Labour would have human rights education included on school curriculums, adding that the party is committed to opposing secret trials and other violations of human rights.
He said his speech to conference on Wednesday would outline more ways in which Labour would protect human rights if elected.
‘These are human rights for every human, not just rights for middle-class white people,’ he added.
Shadow foreign office minister Kerry McCarthy noted that the UK could leave itself open to ‘accusations of hypocrisy’ when it advocated human rights abroad.
But Labour’s record came under attack from human rights lawyer Richard Hermer, a barrister at Matrix Chambers.
‘I might make myself unpopular here but the first thing a Labour government has to do is appreciate the mistakes it made last time in government,’ said Hermer.
’They undermined the rule of law and human rights at home and abroad. Their record was appalling domestically on surveillance, police powers, ASBOs and trial without detention. Abroad they were even worse.’
Kate Allen, director of the human rights charity Amnesty International UK, said this country has struggled to find consistency in its approach to the subject.
She called for the minister for human rights to sit in cabinet and attend meetings of the UN Security Council.
‘There is no sensible argument for changing the Human Rights Act,’ she said. ‘It would reduce protections for our citizens and for a modern democracy to move backwards is unheard of and would send an appalling message to the rest of the world.’