Defending Human Rights

Question from Councillor Andy Swain, to full council on 13 January.

At the full council meeting in November, it was twice suggested that a councillors’ human rights were being abused when the chair interrupted the speaker. The Human rights act is very important and not to be made light of. In the legal opinion of the council’s monitoring officer, Is it an abuse of human rights for a speaker to be interrupted by the chair? if so, we should all know, and we can all behave accordingly.

Response from Executive Member for Corporate Services

Article 10 Human Rights Act 1998 states:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

Consequently, while freedom of expression is protected in the UK, it must be borne in mind that this freedom is a qualified right, meaning that there are certain circumstances in which it may be overridden. As a result, the UK allows for the regulation of free speech and the ultimate blocking of speech, eg to protect people from suffering abuse on account of who they are.

Council meetings are occasions when the business of the Council is conducted, political debate takes place and decisions made. Those meetings take place within a statutory framework and pursuant to the provisions and obligations provided for by the Local Government Act 1972 amongst others.

Arising from that legislation are the rules of debate as set out in the Council’s constitution. The Chair conducts such meetings in accordance with those rules, so as to ensure that the business of the Council is conducted in a fair and equitable manner. The alternative being anarchy and chaos.

It is trite law that such rules and procedures are necessary in a democratic society. Therefore, any curtailing by the Chair of an attempt by a member to step outside of those rules for the purpose of making a speech or other reason would be a lawful infringement of the member’s right to say what they want when they want. It should be remembered that such lawful infringement operates within a regime that makes provision for the making of speeches and expressing opinion.

Supplementary Question

Thank you chair I have a supplementary question,

Thank you for the clarification about the Human Rights act 1998 which incorporated the European convention on human rights into British law and for explaining that the rules of debate in this chamber do not violate those rights.

Would the portfolio holder agree with me, that these rights including the right to protest without fear or prosecution or retribution, are important and we must maintain them especially since they are no longer protected by EU membership.

Would he also join me in condemning legislation that undermines them such as the Nationality and Borders Bill, which criminalised saving lives at sea, and The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which creates new offences for protest that is “too loud” or has “an impact”?

Thank you