Legal profession doesn’t rate Tory manifesto pledge to scrap Human Rights Act

Avatar photo

By Alex Aldridge on

Anger as Conservatives promise Bill of Rights and to reduce power of European Court of Human Rights — oh, and hint at more legal aid cuts


Top lawyers have reacted angrily on social media to the Tories’ plans for the legal system which were published today as part of its election manifesto.

Chief among the proposals is a longstanding pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) — introduced by Tony Blair’s Labour in 1998 — and bring in a “Bill of Rights”.

According to the manifesto, such a bill would “remain faithful” to the core principles of the HRA to “protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which is an essential part of a modern democratic society”.

But it would apparently “reverse the ‘mission creep’ that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society.”

Related is the Tories’ pledge to make the UK Supreme Court the “ultimate arbiter” of human rights for Britain, although they were very sketchy on the details on this point.

One Crown Office Row human rights barrister Adam Wagner wasn’t impressed, labelling the plans “vague and muddled”:

Wagner went on to point out that, in their detail-lite current form, the Tory proposals represent a retreat from justice secretary Chris Grayling’s earlier plan — announced in October last year — to quit the European Convention on Human Rights.

On the issue of legal aid, the manifesto was predictably gloomy — and contained this ominous line:

“We will continue to review our legal aid systems, so they can continue to provide access to justice in an efficient way”.

Responding to a screenshot of this quote tweeted by 11KBW employment lawyer Sean Jones QC, top Blackstone Chambers barrister Dinah Rose QC wrote wearily:

Jones proceeded to provide this further translation of ToryManifestoSpeak:

So, in summary, the Tories don’t much like the rule of law. As leading solicitor and legal journalist David Allen Green (who tweets as Jack of Kent) put it:

Unfortunately, as we have already discovered, the signs are that the Labour Party isn’t especially into the protection of legal rights either. As we reported yesterday, its manifesto declined to specify what it will do about legal aid, stating only that “we will make sure that access to legal representation…remains available to those that need it”.

Given the state of the system in the wake of Grayling’s attacks on it, the use of the term “remains” is obviously a cause for concern.

So far only the Green Party has pledged to protect legal aid, with its manifesto, also published today, promising to reverse cuts made to the legal aid system in the unlikely event that the party is elected in May.

It’s the Lib Dems’ turn tomorrow.


Labour politicians don’t want to talk about their vague legal aid manifesto pledge on Twitter [Legal Cheek]