How human rights in the UK are under attack

We speak to an expert to find out how human rights are threatened in the UK

They affect every single aspect of your daily life: from the food you eat to the friends you meet, the clothes you wear to the websites you visit - all of the above, and so much more, are made possible by human rights.

But, for a variety of reasons, young people across the UK are finding the ability to freely do, say and be who they want to be is increasingly under attack.

For this reason, we spoke to Professoressor Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, the Inaugural Chair of Law at Goldsmiths, University of London, about the issue - and what you can do to preserve your freedoms for future generations.

What are human rights?

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every individual from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life.

They can never be taken away although they can sometimes be restricted, due to national security or if a law is broken.

As one of the leading thinkers on this topic in the UK, Professor Giannoulopoulos believes human rights are “inherent to a free society”.

Professor Giannoulopoulos said: “They are key freedoms which protect us against the arbitrary interference of governmental bodies and authorities. For example they allow us all a private life and enable us to freely express ourselves..

“They affect us every day, every hour of our lives.”

The Brexit effect

In the UK, we do not have a specific law to enshrine human rights; instead, the rules are upheld by our membership of the European Convention of Human Rights.

This could soon change - with Brexit ensuring a brutal reassessment of every link with European Union establishments.

Professor Giannoulopoulos said: “When the result of the referendum came out those of us in this area of law realised we would be dealing with the aftermath for years to come.

“It is the opening of Pandora’s Box as far as constitutional rights are concerned. We will have to keep in place about 20,000 pieces of legislation that we have brought into the rule book in the 45 years since joining the EU. However we have already removed the single most important piece of EU human rights legislation, the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and we will no longer be able to seek recourse to the European Court of Justice.

“Moving forward, one of the fundamental questions is whether we remain aligned with Europe in terms of human rights. If not, who will be there to oversee what our government decides in this country? This external oversight is getting lost and some of it has gone already.

“We must now pay maximum attention to safeguarding the European Convention on Human Rights as the UK has threatened to withdraw from that too.”

Big Brother may be watching

While Brexit seems to be delivering uncertainty, there has been a growing trend in recent years which is seemingly at odds with human rights: the threat of terrorism.

The threat of attack combined with the development of easier and quicker communication methods has led to some of of our human rights being eroded in the interest of national security.

To keep us safe, the intelligence services have been given certain powers of surveillance. This means that at the click of a few buttons, pretty much your entire online life can be accessed and analysed by those tasked with keeping the country safe. But does it come at a cost?

Professor Giannoulopoulos said: “We all love to connect through modern technological means; but we need to think twice about how this leads to us being under surveillance.

“Let’s be frank, we’ve seen a terrifying increase in this across online communications: from the books you’ve bought online, websites you’ve visited, the TV you’ve watched - it’s happening on a massive scale.

“Electronic surveillance can serve a useful purpose but it has to apply to individuals suspected of engaging in serious criminal activity, not the entire UK population.

“Only recently in an historic judgement (Big Brother Watch v UK) the European Court of Human Rights found that the UK’s system for the mass surveillance of online communications was in direct breach of the right to privacy and freedom of expression. Now the UK government will have to make significant changes to it, to ensure transparency and accountability.

“At the same time there are areas to be optimistic. We live in a liberal democracy and enjoy the rights to express opinion and take part in public debate about when we think surveillance has crossed the line.”

How can I learn more?

The debate over human rights is very much a live one, no doubt due to the uncertainty of Brexit and terrorism threat.

For that reason, there are many places outside of the classroom, such as political and debating societies where this can be discussed. Groups and charities such as Liberty and Amnesty International offer a campaigning platform.

But for those that really want to roll up their sleeves, there’s no better way than studying the subject at university.

Professor Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos is Chair of Law at Goldsmiths, University of London, where opportunities to put legal knowledge into practice are built into the LLB Law from the beginning. Visits to courts and lectures from renowned Visiting Professors complement activities such as mock contract negotiations, mooting and the chance to gain experience in a legal clinic.

Dimitrios, who is also Associate Academic Fellow of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple, said: “The students we are looking for do not need to know law already; what matters is the desire to engage with the wide range of learning and Professoressional development opportunities that will be given, to learn law outside of the classroom.

If the students actively engage then automatically skills and understanding will develop ensuring students are prepared for what is a very competitive, but intellectually rewarding, work environment.

“This programme is about learning and applying law to effect change, contributing to wider discussions, as everyone here at Goldsmiths has a true passion for confronting the modern challenges that our society faces today.”

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