An event of vital importance has occurred.  Yesterday, the Government published a public consultation as to what times of the year dog walkers should be able access “Calderdale Area 1” of Soyland Moor.

What makes this so important?  You will have to read on to find out.

Yesterday was also a landmark day for another reason.  It witnessed the anniversary of a milestone in British and World History; the creation of the Magna Carta.  At a ceremony in Runnymede, where the famous charter was first signed 800 years ago, the Prime Minister heralded Magna Carta as a document that “shaped the world.”  

David Cameron also took the opportunity, however, to promote his plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, one of the Charter’s arguable successors.  These controversial plans today prompted the Interim Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, to write an open letter to the Prime Minister arguing that the legacy of Magna Carta ought to be the preservation of the Human Rights Act.

In the midst of all this celebration and discussion, the anniversary of Magna Carta seems an appropriate time for Aspire to explore what the charter - and its successors - mean for disabled people. 

Perhaps the most celebrated feature of Magna Carta is its assertion that all citizens are equal under the law:

 “No free man shall be seized or imprisoned…except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land…To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”  

According to Magna Carta, the whim of a government, or any other authority, should not deprive a person of their basic rights.  All citizens, even those who are otherwise the most privileged, are subject to the equal rule of law.  This same principle – that of equality – provides a fundamental base from which disabled people can argue for the same opportunities and protections that are available to non-disabled people.    

Arguably, the Human Rights Act is now operating in a similar way.  See, for instance, the testimony of Jan, a wheelchair user who used the Human Rights Act to support her argument that she needed greater care provision.  She comments that “I looked at the Human Rights Act and realised it was saying yes, you are worth as much as any other human being.”   Like Magna Carta before it, The Human Rights Act is functioning as a descriptor of what it means to be human and a guide as to what a human should expect from life.

However, unlike its predecessor, the Human Rights Act also provides a practical means through which disabled people can have their rights upheld.  Article 6 – the right to a fair trial – has been successfully used to challenge the DWP over the misleading information it provided to a disabled person before a benefits appeal.  Article 14 - the right to freedom from discrimination - has been used to question the impact of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ on disabled people.   Two disabled sisters used the Human Rights Act to challenge a policy implemented by their care providers which restricted their ability to move freely.

The content of the proposed replacement for the Human Rights Act, the “British Bill of Rights”, remains hazy.  But should it diminish any of the above protections, Aspire will campaign for the retention of the protections enshrined in the Human Rights Act.  Furthermore, even if the content of the “British Bill of Rights” matches the standards of the Human Rights Act, care must also be taken that the symbolic power of the Act is not lessened.  Like the Magna Carta, it acts as a banner for individuals to rally around and make their value felt.

So what was the importance of the consultation on Soyland Moor?  Magna Carta, as the Prime Minister acknowledged, changed forever "the balance of power between the governed and the government."  No authority can exercise arbitrary power over its citizens, who have a right to make their voices heard.  You can’t implement the Bedroom Tax - or change Soyland Moor - without asking us first.