COULD you be placed in a care home against your wishes? Could a doctor not actively seek to prevent your suicide and still be acting within the Hippocratic Oath? Could your country break international law just because it can? Well, it depends. It depends on something as complex and contentious as the Human Rights Act.

The Human Rights Act places all state bodies – hospitals, government, local authorities, prisons, schools and the government itself – under a legal obligation to respect what is protected under its provisions. If any of these bodies violate your rights, you can take them to court and expect justice to be administered.

Well, for now.

Last week’s Queen’s Speech makes for grim reading for all of us. Freedoms, protections, peace in Northern Ireland and safeguards that we had all grown accustomed to will no longer be available in administrative law.

Before we talk legal jargon, let’s look at a selection of the triumphs of this little unsung hero of UK life, the Human Rights Act (HRA) 1998, so maligned by those dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives forever fearful of illegal aliens infecting their Saxon purity. Let’s check which of these cases is so terribly un-British as to provoke Dominic Raab and Theresa May into their well-documented histrionics.

READ MORE: Human rights reforms need consent of Scottish Parliament, Tories warned

Here is a selection ...

The Human Rights Act was pivotal in ensuring positive verdicts in:

  •  The Hillsborough disaster. The HRA was used to assist families in uncovering the truth about the 96 people who perished.
  • Equal rights for gay couples. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Juan-Godin Mendoza.
  • Modern-day slavery and trafficking. The Patience Asuquo case brought into focus Article 4 of the Human Rights Act and finally led to the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015.
  • Do Not Resuscitate notices. A commission found that patients must be told if doctors consider that CPR should not be carried out on the grounds that it would not work. The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the case (Article 8 of the HRA).
  • Peace agreement in Northern Ireland. The European Convention of Human Rights, and its guarantor the Human Rights Act, underpins the Good Friday Agreement. Victims of the conflict and their relatives have warned that removing the Human Rights Act would threaten the agreement.
  • Elderly couple separated by council – the case of Mr and Mrs Driscoll who had lived together for over 65 years. When Mr Driscoll was moved into a residential care home, Mrs Driscoll wanted to move to the home with her husband but was told she didn’t meet the criteria to join him. This was a clear breach of the couple’s right to a family life as protected by the Human Rights Act and the couple were reunited.
  • Police retaining DNA and fingerprints of innocent people. When police refused to destroy the DNA samples and fingerprint records in their possession, the Human Rights Act assisted the court in adjudicating that privacy had been breached and that police policy was disproportionate.
  • Grenfell fire. Right to life (Article 2, HRA), the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3, HRA), right to respect for private and family life (Article 8, HRA) and the right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions (Article 1, HRA) Raab, May, David Cameron and the Attorney General herself, Suella Braverman, have criticised the HRA as “feckless” and “undemocratic” and threatened to replace it with a British Bill of Rights. 

    Boris Johnson announced in the Queen’s Speech that this is now going ahead. Under the guise of the urgency to “deport foreign criminals”, the British government proposes to hollow out the right to family life, protection of private data, fighting against eviction, and resistance to mass surveillance – to mention but a few. This is not a far-fetched hypothesis. After last week’s Queen’s Speech, delivered by her son Charles bedecked in his ceremonial robes and jewels, it is fact.

This assault on the HRA is portrayed as an opportunity for the post-Brexit UK to shake off the “shackles”– as Conservatives see them – of EU protections. What has been the pillar of rights and guarantees in UK life for 25 years is termed in the Queen’s Speech as “the abuse of the human rights framework and restoration of some common sense to our justice system”.

It goes on to state that the new proposals will curb the “expansion of a rights culture without proper democratic oversight, which has displaced due focus on personal responsibility and the public interest”.

The use of incendiary language is both calculated and highly objectionable. It is calculated to ignite passion against imaginary enemies: the foreigners, the lawyers, the Londoners, the Scots, the unemployed, the sick – the list goes on. It is craftily designed to elevate “personal responsibility” to replace the functions of the state.

“Personal responsibility” is, of course, nothing more than the total aberration of the role of the state as protector of rights, guarantor of safety of its citizens and upholder of international duties and obligations.

The National: File photo dated 12/10/1984 of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Monday March 3, 2014. The miners' strike started in Yorkshire in early March 1984 and within days half the country's mineworkers had walked out

It is the final enactment into law of Margaret Thatcher’s abhorrent obsession with individualism, exploitation of your fellow human, cult of money and the destruction of society and community. It is the stamp and seal of private interest over public good and the brutal submission to the power of questionable wealth. It is a lesson that a full pocket will buy you your way out of these tiresome necessities – aka human rights – and grant you immunity from wrongdoing with capitalist salvation as a bonus.

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” – the words of Walter Scott are no longer just poetry. They describe a state captured. A state indebted to its paymasters who dictate scrutiny and policy. A state where the judiciary can no longer perform its duty independently of the executive.

The Johnson government can certainly claim excellence in shamelessly breaking norms and violating conventions, promoting unqualified “bankers” to the highest office, enjoying the greatest Covid death toll across Europe, Asia and America and being beholden to dark money powers. They make no secret of that. In fact, they celebrate it. They have converted the narrow interests of monied individuals and entities into political power and it will be very difficult to turn back the process.

In the words of Liz David-Barrett, professor of governance and integrity at the University of Sussex and director of the Centre for the Study of Corruption: “Britain is a state that is becoming more vulnerable to capture … In Britain, let’s not assume that we are somehow immune to this kind of slide. Let’s shore up the checks and balances on executive power, and let’s do a better job of policing conflicts of interest between business and politics.”

Human rights are not a given privilege. Democracy is not a given privilege. At times it feels like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up an interminable hill in the depths of Hades. The Queen’s Speech was an official announcement of 38 pieces of indictment on those who cannot afford to put food on the table, heat their homes and enjoy the rudiments of a humane existence. Incidentally, that is millions of citizens of this country, one of the richest in the world.

The deluded economic triumphs of Brexit, compounded by the heights of self-defeating sovereignty and emancipation from the evils of Europe including the dilution of the Good Friday Agreement, promise us the uplands of “good old British common sense” cast as measures to “ensure the constitution is defended”; from what that defence is necessary remains unclear.

As human rights and constitutional safeguards recede, one thing remains unaltered – the fact that Johnson will continue to do everything with the means at his disposal to remain in power. To what cost is a question we shall all be summoned to answer in the fullness of time.

Effie Samara is a doctoral researcher in social science at the University of Glasgow and a Unesco Affiliate Artist