Surely, Stormzy is not the only one who feels this way. I decided that I’d better let everyone digest the news that we are in for several years of undiluted Tory abuse in the UK before I broke into the topic of what this may mean for van lifers.
(Yes, I suspect that it is very hard to be a van lifer and a Tory. I invite anyone who proves me wrong to explain to me how you unite these two extremes in your life. Thanks in advance.)
So what does the election have to do with van life?
Your human rights.
I haven’t heard of even a single case yet of this happening in the UK, but there are locations on the planet where you may find police knocking on your van’s window to tell you that you are breaking the law.
When you’re parked in the B&Q lot and someone in a suit or with the B&Q logo on his outfit urges you to move on, that’s a different matter as you’re on B&Q’s property. (Mevi has mentioned that this has happened to him.)
But when police officers are knocking on your window to tell you that you are doing something that you are not supposed to be doing, while you are parked in a public area, they are infringing on your human rights.
You are free to choose which way you want to live. Whether you get to exercise that right depends on which rights take priority when for example a town has decided to make living in a van against the law.
In the UK, human rights usually take priority in these cases, to be specific, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The top court for that is in Strasbourg, France.
Now you are probably getting where I am going with this.
There is something else. Rights champion Lady Hale is about to retire. She’s only headed the UK’s Supreme Court for a relatively short while, but she’s already leaving again in January. But I digress.
Brenda Hale, however, has said something profound that I want you to tuck away in a corner of your mind, and remember for when you need it.
“THE PURPOSE OF ANY HUMAN RIGHTS PROTECTION IS TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF THOSE WHOM THE MAJORITY ARE UNWILLING TO PROTECT: DEMOCRACY VALUES EVERYONE EQUALLY EVEN IF THE MAJORITY DO NOT.”
Now you see why I am sad that Brenda Hale will be leaving the Supreme Court soon. Boris Johnson apparently has already expressed a desire to overhaul the court system so that he will have pawns instead of neutral judges in the courts.
Back to your human rights as a van lifer.
When British towns try to interfere with (ban, etc) Travellers, these towns sometimes have to take a step back after a court tells them that they cannot interfere with the right of Travellers to live life their way.
This is usually based on the ECHR.
(For foreigners: Travellers are probably also known as “gypsies” elsewhere, though I can’t rule out that Travellers technically aren’t gypsies.)
It won’t happen overnight, but the European Convention on Human Rights will eventually cease to apply in the UK.
Worse, the Tories have been yelling for many years that they want to get rid of the UK’s Human Right Act, too. Will they? We’ll have to see.
In 2012, LSE human rights law professor and Irishman Conor Gearty wrote about it on his website. He also gave a talk about it that I happened to attend.
The bit on his website starts like this:
A little bit later, he says the following about the Tories, with an audible chuckle:
“even their slower members notice there is something odd about Mr Hague and Mr Cameron telling the whole world to embrace human rights – except, that is, the one bit of global terrain over which they have any power”
Indeed, the UK as a nation as well as its government tends to tout itself as a human rights defender internationally, but within the UK, the UK government considers human rights a pain in the butt.
There have been many court cases against the UK government in the past ten years, in which the judges told the government that it was breaking the law, often violating the human rights of the British people the cases were about. (The Department of Work and Pensions is notorious in this respect.) This usually concerned “class actions” or “group litigation”, which means that the outcome of the court case applies to a large group of people.
We’ll have to see what happens next, with regard to the UK Human Rights Act.
Sorry that it is taking me so long to get to the meat, but I feel that it is important to explain, particularly to foreigners in the UK, why I wrote this post.
In the meantime (while we are waiting to see what will happen to human rights in the UK), if anyone should tell you that you shouldn’t be doing what you are doing (unless you are on the person’s piece of land, in which case you should leave), it might be smart not to mention the ECHR.
It is hard to know where the sympathies lie of the person you are talking with and referring to anything to do with “Europe” might backfire.
In that case, the UK Human Rights Act might not sit well with that person either, as many people see it as something that was “forced upon the UK” by the EU.
Many Tories have been preaching against it for so long, with for example Theresa May making fun of it by openly stating during a speech that “human rights” mean that someone cannot be deported if he or she has a cat. That was complete nonsense and she was later caught out on live TV, by a BBC interviewer. She didn’t even bat an eyelash. (She has been held in contempt by a court, on a human rights issue, once and Amber Rudd twice.)
So, many people in the UK genuinely believe that human rights have something to do with EU laws that force the UK to let terrorists into the country or give prisoners ice cream and a porn flick for dessert or something along those lines. Yes, seriously! I am not kidding.
You could ask the person you are talking with whether he or she knows who Churchill was and then see if he or she holds Churchill in high regard. If not, then you could move on to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and see what the response to those names is.
(What you are doing is trying to find some common ground with the person in question, or something that may make the person feel more sympathetic towards you. You could skip this part altogether, of course, and move on to the UDHR articles below.)
It is these people, Churchill and the Roosevelts, among many others, to whom we owe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights today.
It’s far from perfect, but after the end of the Second World War, which included the holocaust, which affected many people because of their faith, their ethnicity, their disability and various other characteristics that represent human diversity, it was agreed that all human beings should be treated equally and have the same rights and that atrocities like the ones that happened during the Second World War should never happen again.
That is how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came about. The UDHR has not yet been able to ban all atrocities from the planet, but it’s helped defend the rights of many people, including yours.
Okay, so what does this mean in practice, when some copper knocks on your window or whatever?
First, feel free to take into account that most police officers do not know the law even though they often think they do and even if they look into their special police officers’ version of “the law” (a booklet they may carry). This booklet is essentially no more than a summary of the law as it applies to certain situations, rewritten in laymen’s terms, for police officers, from their perspective.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains the following rights that you can refer to within the UK, as the UK was one of its signatories and architects.
Article 1 is a really nice one to start with as it may appeal to the person’s sense of brotherhood.
Articles 2 and 3 should sound pretty impressive if Article 1 does not convince.
Article 12 is very important. If you cite that, you are essentially telling whoever is interfering with you to back off because he or she is interfering with your privacy, family life, and home, and may even be attacking your honour and reputation.
- Article I
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
So you could say something like this:
“According to the United Nations, all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights, and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.
I hope you’ll know at least that bit by heart. With a bit of luck, this will make the person smile. If not, get the piece of paper that has all these articles on it and read from it.
- Article 2
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
- Article 3
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
So you could say something like this:
“Also according to the United Nations, everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in the UDHR, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty. In addition, everyone – so that includes me – has the right to life, liberty and security of person. And you are interfering with my life, liberty and security.”
Pause briefly so that you give the person the chance to back off and give yourself a chance to look the person in the eye.
If he or she does not back off, then do not give him or her the chance to say anything and (as soon as he or she tries to say something) continue by reading Article 12 out loud, including that heading (“Article 12”).
As soon as you say “Article 12”, the person can be expected to conclude that you are citing the law and that you know a heck of a lot more about it than he or she does. That should make him or her back off.
So you say the following, but you should say it very confidently without a hint of hesitation or insecurity.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home (or correspondence), nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”
Read this, wish the person a nice day and immediately get into your van and/or close the door or window and/or drive away, whatever is most appropriate in the situation.
Should things get out of hand in spite of that, then Article 9 applies.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Maybe you should practice saying these things in front of a mirror so that the words will feel very familiar to you, should you ever need them. That familiarity will also help you give off the vibe that you know the law very well.
When I was a kid, my mother often used to say something along the lines of “better safe than sorry” or “best be prepared for anything you may encounter” (such as unexpected rain). It took me a long time to understand what she meant, and see the wisdom of her words. (My mother passed away a long time ago, so she never got the chance to explain all sorts of things to me.)
(For foreigners: A “Tory” is an extreme Conservative. Not all Conservatives are Tories, though the terms are often used as if they are synonymous. Tories are people who believe that not all humans are equal, which is the basis of that oh so peculiar British class system.)