Are Human Rights Really Universal?  Asks Helena Kennedy QC, Chair of JUSTICE Council on BBC Radio 4 tonight

You can now listen to the first instalment on the BBC Radio 4 website. Listen now.

Tonight (Monday 18 April) at 8pm on BBC Radio 4, in the first instalment of a two-part series, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws QC, Chair of JUSTICE Council, will be exploring the question ‘Are Human Rights Really Universal?’

In these two programmes Helena will be talking to legal philosophers, historians, sceptics and advocates about what universal human rights are, in the context of moral, legal and political landscapes. She looks at ideas of justice in the ancient world and asks if our commitment human rights law goes beyond a reaction to atrocities committed in the Second World War and instead is indicative of a deep-seated desire for all people to share a universal humanity.

Baroness Kennedy has long been an advocate of human rights, acting in some of the most prominent cases in the last thirty years, including the Brighton Bombing, the Michael Bettany espionage trial, the Guildford Four appeal and the bombing of the Israeli embassy.  She was a member of the Commission on a Bill of Rights appointed by the Coalition Government.  She has been a member of JUSTICE Council since 2006.

Like Helena, JUSTICE puts the protection of human rights and civil liberties in the UK at the heart of our work. Ensuring that our justice system is capable of providing effective protection for individual rights is at the core of JUSTICE’s vision and mission. We ground our work in the key standards recognised by the common law and the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the international human rights treaties which bind the UK.  The Human Rights Act plays an on-going role in our work today – from our upcoming project on mental health in the criminal justice system to our parliamentary briefings on surveillance powers in the Investigatory Powers Bill making its way through Parliament now.

JUSTICE remains very concerned about the Government’s continued commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’.  The Human Rights Act performs the core functions of a bill of rights for the UK.  While the Government’s long-promised proposals are unlikely to appear until after the EU referendum, leaks and policy statements from Ministers suggest that reform will mean restraint, placing limits on the operation of the Act and restrictions on the substantive rights which it protects;  in short, undermining the principle of universality to offer fewer rights for fewer people.

The protection of individual rights and respect for international obligations are cornerstones of modern democracy, designed to protect us all from the excesses of unrestrained executive power. From journalists protecting their sources and the right to free expression, to bereaved families seeking the truth about the death of their loved ones at the hands of the State, the HRA and the ECHR have worked to secure the rights of individuals across our society against excess.

Tinkering with our constitutional framework for the protection of individual rights will do little to address myths and political anxieties about the scope of these most fundamental of guarantees. JUSTICE urges caution; diminishing human rights guarantees at home undermines the ability of the UK to speak credibly about human rights and the rule of law on the global stage.

Baroness Kennedy’s Radio 4 series should be essential listening for all those interested in the debate.

You can read more about her career and attitude towards human rights in the exclusive interview she gave for the JUSTICE Student Network.

You can learn more about JUSTICE’s work on the Bill of Rights debate, here.