Top EU law academic tells parliament to stop being so selfish about human rights

Avatar photo

By Katie King on

UK government needs to set a good example to other countries


A top University of Liverpool academic has told the House of Lords that they need to think hard about the wider impacts of the long-awaited British Bill of Rights.

Speaking to the Select Committee on the European Union at the House of Lords this morning, Professor Michael Dougan (pictured above) explained that the UK has a leading role in the European project, and that the country’s human rights agenda has the potential to shape wider attitudes.

The Tory government is in the midst of repealing the divisive Human Rights Act and replacing it with a new British Bill of Rights, the grand reveal of which is hotly anticipated.

Dougan talked the eager-to-learn Lords through the legal implications of the new Act, specifically its potential impact on European law.

One recurring theme made by the esteemed professor was the “collective damage” that the British Bill of Rights could cause across the continent. Though the momentum behind the jurisdictional shake-up is to ‘bring British rights home’, Dougan urges the Lords to step back and think more closely about the wider implications of law reform.

Dougan was asked:

If a British Bill of Rights departed from clear principles established by European Court of Human Rights case law, would the UK’s withdrawal from the ECHR be the eventual outcome?

Noting that the answer, in law at least, was no, Dougan explained that the heaviest costs would be political.

While there is potential for inward damage to the UK’s credibility, more worrying, he says, is the damage that legislation of this kind could do to the status of the European Convention of Human Rights itself.

As a leading force of human rights protection in Europe, Dougan questions what sort of example the UK would be setting to other countries — particularly those with a shaky human rights history like Russia and Turkey — if we were to legislate in such a way.

Dougan echoed the sentiments of Professor Elizabeth Wicks, from the University of Leicester, who stresses that the quest for “home grown rights” is not an excuse for their degradation. Negative perceptions of rights can spread, she explained at a recent event at Reed Smith, and the UK does not want to be seen as setting a bad example.

For both Dougan and Wicks, the British Bill of Rights may well send shockwaves across the continent, and needs to be considered carefully in its wider, political context.


10 human rights cases that everyone should know [Legal Cheek]