Civil and human rights
|After the widespread neglect of human rights during
the Second World War, there was a determination to prevent similar
abuses. In 1948 the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, which called for 'respect for human rights
and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as
to race, sex, language or religion'. Although the declaration
was not enforceable, it acted as a principle for countries to
Creation of Citizens' Advice Bureaux
||In 1950 it inspired the Council of Europe to draw
up the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
This identified basic human rights and created a legal procedure,
through a European Court of Human Rights, for their protection.
The convention did not replace national law, but legal decisions
made in the UK can now be referred to the European Court of
Human Rights, which may decide to overrule British law.
|In 1998 the position changed when the Human Rights Act incorporated
the European Convention on Human Rights into British domestic
law. The main points, or 'Articles', it guarantees include:
the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery
and forced labour, the right to liberty and security, the right
to a fair trial, the right to privacy, freedom of conscience,
freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association,
and the right to marry and have a family. These Articles must
now be considered when any legal ruling is made.
Human rights in the UK
Since 1945 the government has played an increased role in
the lives of people living in the UK, and at the same time
civil and human rights have been increasingly contested. A
National Council for Civil Liberties was founded in 1934 (renamed
'Liberty' in 1989). It was set up to monitor the conduct of
the police towards hunger marchers and anti-fascist demonstrators
in the 1930s. During the Second World War the Council defended
the cause of conscientious objectors and interned aliens.
Since the war the Council has been involved in guarding against
infringements of civil
and opposing censorship, and has taken a keen interest in
alleged violations of human rights in Ireland.
|Some organisations were founded to campaign on
specific issues. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was set
up in 1958 to press the British government to get rid of nuclear
weapons. CND became a mass movement and attracted huge support
for their protest marches to Aldermaston, the atomic weapons
research establishment. In the 1980s, when the USA stationed
Cruise missiles in Europe, CND linked with Christian, youth,
'green' and feminist movements to stage demonstrations. The
Women's Peace Camp at the US Air Force base at Greenham Common,
in Berkshire, became a famous focal point of protest.
'Bill of Rights' for Northern Ireland
(184k) | Transcript
|Minority groups campaigning for civil rights have
had mixed success. In 1967 the Sexual Offences Act decriminalised
private homosexual acts between men over 21. However, the 1967
Act applied solely to England and Wales, and it was only extended
to Scotland in 1980 and Northern Ireland in 1982. Since the
Act, gay groups have worked to change attitudes in society and
break down prejudice. Nevertheless, a conservative backlash
came in the form of Section 28 of the Local Government Act (1988),
which banned the promotion in schools of homosexuality as an
acceptable lifestyle. Although the age of consent was lowered
to 18 in 1994 and then to 16 from January 2001 (except for Northern
Ireland, where it is 17), Section 28 still remains a source
|People with disabilities have long campaigned
for anti-discrimination legislation to allow them to participate
as equal citizens. In 1995 the Disability Discrimination Act
made it illegal to discriminate against disabled people in areas
such as employment, access to services, and renting property.
In 2000 a Disability Rights Commission - which works in a similar
way to the Commission for Racial Equality - was set up to ensure
that these rights are enforced.
and freedom of information
New technology has thrown up fresh controversies. Large amounts
of personal information are now stored on computer, as well
as on paper, by both central and local government, companies
and other organisations. Data protection legislation has been
introduced to protect the right to privacy and to ensure that
information is not misused. Civil liberties issues are not,
however, always clear-cut. For instance, some people believe
the introduction of identity cards would help to cut down on
crime and disorder, while others fear they could be used to
|In recent years the government has
carried out far-reaching constitutional reform, bringing in
new assemblies in Scotland and Wales and - in a still uncompleted
process - a form of devolved
in Ireland. Reform of the House of Lords has also been initiated.
In addition, a Freedom of Information Act was passed in 2000.
Most of its provisions will not come into force until January
2005, although some government information is already available
under the Open
||These changes were partly a response to the work
of organisations such as the Freedom of Information Campaign
- which was set up to gain the right for people to see their
own medical, social work and housing records - and Charter 88,
which was established in 1988. Following the example of the
movement in the early 19th century, it issued a charter
calling for parliamentary reform, as well as open government
and a written constitution, to define the power of the state
and the rights of citizens.
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