HUMAN RIGHTS INFO Blog Practicing What We Preach! BIHR Human Rights Officers speak to MPs for the Week of Action on Human Rights 3 September 2021 (updated 25 October 2021) What is the Week of Action on Human Rights? From 10-17 October 2021, the British Institute of Human Rights is holding a Week of Action on Human Rights in the UK, in partnership with Equally Ours, Stonewall, Liberty, The End Violence Against Women Coalition, Amnesty International UK, The Quakers, The Humanists and Freedom from Torture. One of the key things we are asking people to do during this week of action is to meet with their MP in their local constituencies to show how much we care about human rights. We want to ask our MPs, the elected politicians who represent us, to protect our rights. You can ask your MP to meet either in person or online – we have given some guidance on how to do this below. MPs get booked up a long time in advance so please contact them about this as soon as possible, preferably before 6 September (this is when MPs come back from Parliament’s summer break) to ask for a meeting between 10-17 October 2021. Find out more about why the Week of Action is needed here. Click here to read about Natalie's meeting with her MP. What is BIHR doing? As part of the Week of Action, BIHR and our partners, are asking people, both experienced and new activists, to mobilise and speak to their MP to bring attention to this important campaign. As well as working with partner organisations to organise the Week of Action, we wanted to get involved at a grassroots level and ‘practice what we preach’. Annie and Natalie both joined BIHR in March 2021 as Human Rights Officers and are a little newer to constituency level-activism, so they are documenting their participation in the Week of Action along with other activists across the UK. Annie and Natalie will document their progress on the BIHR blog which will hopefully inspire others to get involved. Influencing our MPs Influencing your MP, sometimes known as ‘lobbying’, is about trying to achieve change. The Week of Action campaign calls for people to speak to their MP to try and persuade them to support the campaign. This can be done in person, by sending letters and emails or via social media. More information on influencing your MP and different ways to lobby them can be found here. Natalie Grubb Friday 3rd September: I have not long moved back to London which means that I needed to first get back on the electoral register. It was a really simple process and took all of 5 minutes. I choose not to be on the open register, which keeps my details private from agencies that have access to the electoral register. For me, it is important to be on the electoral register as it means that I can vote (and having free elections is one of the rights our Human Rights Act protects). To get on the electoral register click here. Once I was registered, I found out who my local MP was by using this search tool. The tool is really helpful as it not only tells you who your MP is, but also gives you their contact details. Armed with MP Andy Slaughter’s email addresses, I set about drafting my email. Amnesty have created a template here, or you can read my email here. Hopefully these will give you some ideas if (like me!) you were stuck for how to start. When contacting your MP, it is best to write to them personally, highlighting the issues that matter the most to you. MPs get lots of emails on a daily basis and are less likely to pay attention if they have received the same email from multiple people – so avoid copy and pasting. It is really important to CC Amnesty UK in your email ([email protected]) so that they can keep track of all the MPs who are approached and offer tailored support to you based on your MP, if you want it. It is also important to include your full name, address, and contact number in your email. I sent my email to my MP, Andy Slaughter, on Friday 27 August, and followed it up on Wednesday 1 September. I am yet to get a response, but I will be persistent – as I urge you to be! The House of Commons is currently on a recess (break) until 6 September, so I hope to hear back soon. Friday 10th September: We kicked off the week by holding a brilliant 90-minute workshop on Monday 6th September (you can watch it here). The workshop was attended by over 40 keen activists of all levels who wanted to find out: More about the campaign Why we have concerns with proposed changes to legislation What the Human Rights Act is – and why we need to protect it Key rights that are under attack How to influence you MP I presented top tips on how to influence an MP, building on what I wrote in the blog last week. I’ve summarised my tips in this handy infographic. If you find my tips helpful, please share this with your networks far and wide. At BIHR we want everyone to know how easy it can be to talk to your MP. My MP is very busy at present, as he is trying to help the many people with family in Afghanistan who live in my constituency. Initially I emailed my MP on 27/8/21. After following my own tips (persistence is key!), I sent another email on 1/9/21 and received a warm response inviting me to a meeting on 4th October. Ahead of the meeting I have some research to do and an agenda to put together, I will update on these next week. All in all, it has been a great week for the Week of Action campaign! Friday 8th October: Click here to read about Natalie's meeting with her MP. Annie Smith Friday 3rd September: I wrote to my MP using WriteToThem – this is a website where you simply type in your postcode, it tells you who your MP and local councillors are, and you can write a letter to them directly on the website. If you want to know how your MP has voted on issues arising in parliament, you can find this information at TheyWorkForYou. My letter about the Week of Action winged its way into my MP’s inbox on the morning of Tuesday 31 August, and within two hours I had a response! My MP acknowledged some of my concerns about judicial review and the Policing Bill, but said nothing about the Human Rights Act or the Nationality & Borders Bill. Unfortunately, there was no mention of a meeting during the Week of Action, so I decided to reply, reiterating my request for a meeting to talk about the importance of protecting human rights. The next morning I received another email offering me a ten-minute telephone surgery with my MP on Friday 3 September to discuss my concerns. I jumped at the chance and started thinking about how to make those ten minutes count. Mindful of the short time I had, I decided to focus mainly on the importance of the Human Rights Act as a law which lays the foundation for other laws in the UK (including the Bills if they are passed). During my call with my MP, I told him briefly who I am and why human rights are important to me. As a social worker and now a Human Rights Officer at BIHR, I gave him examples where I've seen the Human Rights Act in action, as a powerful tool for change not only in courtrooms but in everyday life. My MP asked me to get in touch with him again when the Independent Human Rights Act Review panel publishes its report to identify concrete examples of how any proposed changes might affect people. I had two main asks for my MP. First, I said I would feel reassured if he wrote to the government asking for human rights to be protected and for the Human Rights Act to be left alone. Second, I asked my MP to also write to the government, stressing the need to adhere to the 1951 Refugee Convention, which the Nationality & Borders Bill in its current form could violate. My MP said to put my two requests in an email and he would write to the government about them. A success so far, but we’ll see what comes next! Friday 10th September: I followed up on my phone call with my MP on Monday, making sure to thank him for taking the time to listen to my concerns about the threats being posed to human rights in the UK. As my MP is a member of the Conservative party, he has already voted in favour of some of the Bills progressing through parliament which I'm concerned about, so I thought it might be more effective to ask him to write to the government about the Human Rights Act. Here's what I asked him: I would like Mr Smith to write to the government asking for human rights to be protected in law, and specifically for the Human Rights Act to be left alone. The Human Rights Act is under review and we await the report from the Independent Human Rights Act Review panel. As a social worker, I have seen first-hand how this law works well, and any amendments which could strip back the protections it provides would be devastating to many people. Additionally, there are several Bills progressing through parliament at the moment which could undermine specific rights protected by the Human Rights Act. Again, it is of great importance that human rights are respected and protected by the UK government when considering the impact that these Bills will inevitably have on all of us. I would like Mr Smith to write to the government asking for the 1951 Refugee Convention to be adhered to. The Nationality and Borders Bill as it stands would violate the Convention, therefore significant changes are needed to ensure the UK government follows international human rights law. My MP replied within a matter of hours to tell me that he had sent a copy of my email along with an email of his own to Robert Buckland MP, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, and to Priti Patel MP, Home Secretary. He said when he receives a reply he will write to me again. I plan to chase him up in a couple of weeks to check if he's heard back. Monday 25th October After a few weeks of waiting - during which time we've seen a change of Justice Secretary and heard a lot of chatter about human rights in the news - I've received a response to the concerns I raised with my MP back in September. In response to my first ask (see my entry from 10th September above), Dominic Raab, the new Justice Secretary, wrote to my MP about the Human Rights Act Review on 24 September. Raab said 'the UK Government is committed to upholding the UK's stature on human rights'. He told my MP that 'we need to make sure that our human rights framework [...] develops and is refined to ensure it continues to meet the needs of the society it serves.' He commented that 'the [Independent Review] Panel has engaged widely' (including with people supported to share their positive stories of using the Human Rights Act by BIHR and Liberty) and they 'are expected to submit their report later this year'. Raab finished his letter by saying 'it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the issues that the Panel are considering'. Interesting, given that just a couple of weeks after writing this letter Raab made clear his intention to 'overhaul' the Human Rights Act. My MP was sent a much longer letter from Tom Pursglove, the Minister for Justice and Tackling Illegal Immigration. In this letter, Pursglove spoke about the Nationality & Borders Bill which is currently in the Committee stage in its passage through parliament. He claimed that 'the Bill complies with our international commitments, including the Refugee Convention'. This goes against comments from leading immigration lawyers who say the Nationality & Borders Bill will breach international and domestic law in at least 10 different ways. Pursglove explained the reasons behind some of the other policy plans, including having offshore prison-like facilities, as he puts it "a safe third country", where people will go while waiting for a decision on their asylum claim. I found Freedom from Torture's explainer on the Nationality & Borders Bill helpful in understanding why this Bill will be more harmful than helpful to refugees. Whilst neither of these responses are what I was hoping to hear, I'm glad my MP listened and kept me in the loop. Our MPs should listen, explain how they are representing our concerns to the government, and share any responses they get. Now it is more important than ever to share positive stories about why the Human Rights Act matters every day, both in and out of courtrooms. Writing to MPs can be a powerful tool in campaigning; people power is another. Join BIHR and share why the Human Rights Act matters to you, your loved ones, your organisation, your community. Find out how to get involved here. Apart from the Week of Action, what work is BIHR doing to protect the Human Rights Act? At BIHR, we see the value of the Human Rights Act every day in our work with people accessing services, community and advocacy groups and staff working in public services. The Human Rights Act is, in its current form, an incredibly powerful tool which has the power to create a culture of respect for human rights in the UK. Since the passing of the Human Rights Act, for over 20 years, we at BIHR have been supporting the operationalisation of the Act with rights holders and duty bearers. Our experience shows us that there is still a long way to go until a culture of respect for human rights becomes a reality for all of us, here in the UK; but this is a journey worth taking. Every day in our work with individuals, community groups and staff in public bodies we see the powerful positive difference that can be made to all our lives when we not only understand our human rights but integrate them into our everyday lives and work. The positive impact that our Human Rights Act has on people's lives has never been clearer to me than at the recent "lived experience roundtable" BIHR set up with Liberty for members of the Independent Human Rights Act Review panel to attend. At the roundtable, the panel heard from 10 people who shared their stories about how they have used the Human Rights Act to bring about change in their lives. All 10 people were brilliant! One story that particularly stuck with me was Kirsten's. Kirsten is a single parent of an autistic son who has been held in mental health hospitals and subjected to restrictive practices, including mechanical restraint and long periods in seclusion. Kirsten has secured his discharge using the Human Rights Act, and he now lives happily and independently with a bespoke package of care and is attending college. Kirsten said: “Without the HRA, the Mental Health Act could trump people’s rights. The HRA means that MHA decisions can be challenged where not right-respecting. As a parent, the HRA gives you the legal framework to challenge decisions. Decisions around where someone is housed, contact with family, being turned away from services leaving a person at risk of harm. The JCHR recently referred to families as” “human rights defenders”. If you take away or dilute the HRA, you take away the tool to challenge for people and their families/loved ones.” You can read more about the "lived experience roundtable" and hear everyone's stories here. Click here to find out more about the Week of Action and how you get involved.