Republican News · Thursday 5 October 1999

[An Phoblacht]

Cautious welcome for Human Rights Act

The new Human Rights Act came into force in Britain and the Six Counties on 2 October amidst much fanfare from the Labour government.

The Act, which incorporates the European Convention of Human Rights into British law, essentially means that people who feel that their human rights have been violated no longer have to apply to the human rights court in Strasbourg. Instead of having to wait an average of around seven years before their cases come to fruition, they can call the state to account within the British legal system.

However, a note of caution has been sounded by some human and civil rights campaigns who, whilst broadly welcoming the legislation, warn against the belief that it will utterly transform the landscape of human rights in Britain and the Six Counties.

Paul May, for example, who campaigned on behalf of the Birmingham Six and Roisin McAliskey, told An Phoblacht that although ``certainly it's better to have this legislation than not, there has been a lot of government propaganda around it's importance. It doesn't add significantly to our existing rights, particularly in criminal [as opposed to civil] cases, so people shouldn't think we have travelled the path into Eden''. He pointed out that in cases such as the murder of Robert Hamill and the extra-judicial killing of Diarmuid O'Neill, it could actually still be preferable for the families to take their respective cases to Strasbourg. He says that British judges could still not be wholly relied upon - as was the case in the arrest and detention of Roisin McAliskey - to be able to set aside political considerations and apply the law with complete impartiality.

It is also unclear as to whether the legislation can be applied retrospectively and thus whether it will have any effect on the struggle by the families of Pat Finucane and Rosemary Nelson to obtain, firstly, the truth about who was responsible for sanctioning and carrying out the murders and, secondly, justice for their loved ones.

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