Thursday, 25 February 2010

Children, Schools and Families Bill

The committee tasked with examining the Children, Schools and Families Bill in its response stated in part: “We welcome the requirement that the Secretary of State set out specific entitlements which pupils and parents are entitled to expect from their school. However, we have some concerns about the details of the plans. We recommend that the Secretary of State ensures that the entitlements fully reflect the relevant international human rights standards concerning the child’s right to education and the rights of parents in relation to their children’s education.”

What are these “relevant international human rights”?

Principal amongst them are those enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Protocols thereto. Section 1 of the ECHR provides at:

Article 8:
(1) Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 9:
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
(2) Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief shall be subject only to the limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 12:
Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to form a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.

Article 13:
Everyone whose rights and freedoms as set forth in this Convention are violated shall have an effective remedy before a national authority notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity.

Article 14:
The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any grounds such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, birth or other status.

Article 15:
In time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation any High Contracting Party may take measures derogating from its obligations under this Convention to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with its other obligations under international law.

The Substantive Protocols to the Convention provide:

1. Protocol No.1, 20 March 1952
Article (1):
Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.
The preceding provision shall not, however, in any way impair the right of a State to enforce such laws as it deems necessary to control the use of property in accordance with the general interest or to secure the payment of taxes or other contributions or penalties.

Article (2):
No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.

It is apparent that this last provision is of paramount importance. I believe that the Government's determination to dictate to "Faith Schools" what they must teach in relation to HSE is ultra vires and can be successfully contested at law. Having adopted the European Human Rights into British law even measures passed by Parliament are subject to the test of compatibility with ECHR and this plainly ain't!

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