MF urges reinforcement of torture ban as Bill of Rights Commission announced
The Medical Foundation (now Freedom from Torture) today cautioned strongly against any moves to repeal the Human Rights Act (HRA), as the government announced the membership and terms of reference for an independent commission to investigate the case for a UK Bill of Rights.
Keith Best, CEO of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, said: "while the coalition government has asked the commission to investigate the case for a Bill of Rights that would build on our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Medical Foundation is very worried that this debate could be used to seek to dilute these rights or to lessen the power of the courts to enforce them. We are particularly concerned that any reforms must not compromise the absolute prohibition on torture, including a ban on sending individuals to states where they would face a significant risk of torture, as set out in the UK Human Rights Act."
Keith Best added: "any attempt to make the protection of absolute rights contingent on national security interests would be both morally untenable and a failure on the part of the UK to honour its international obligations. Experience has shown that we cannot rely upon diplomatic assurances from receiving states that torture will not occur."
The commission will be chaired by Sir Leigh Lewis, a former permanent secretary, and will report to Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, and the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, in 2012. Sir Leigh Lewis will be joined by eight leading barristers: Martin Howe QC, Anthony Lester QC, Jonathan Fisher QC, Helena Kennedy QC, Anthony Speaight QC, Philippe Sands QC, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky and Sir David Edwards.
The Medical Foundation also fears that in opening up this debate, there may be attempts to meddle with the protection of other fundamental rights crucial to torture survivors struggling to rebuild their lives, such as the rights to private and family life, marriage, not to be arbitrarily detained or suffer discrimination owing to race, religion or political opinion. Keith Best said "far from building new rights into the current framework, a bill may demolish those we already enjoy under the Human Rights Act, returning us to the dark days before the incorporation of the European Convention rights into our UK law."