Government should shelve grand but pointless nationalist gesture
A bunch of top constitutional experts have revealed that they are not convinced by the government’s planned human rights overhaul.
The House of Lords EU Justice Committee reckons that the government should think again about its plans to abolish the Human Rights Act — a piece of cornerstone legislation for law students — and replace it with the British Bill of Rights.
Though this was a headline Tory manifesto promise, the government has been slow to take action, and we’re still not really sure when the elusive British Bill of Rights will come to fruition, or if it will at all.
Next month will be the tenth anniversary of David Cameron's first call for Human Rights Act to be replaced by a "British Bill of Rights".
— David Allen Green (@DavidAllenGreen) May 8, 2016
The Committee has been hearing evidence on this issue for months from the likes of prominent EU law professor Michael Dougan and Justice Secretary Michael Gove.
Having reflected on this evidence, the Lords and Ladies have now suggested that the government’s plans aren’t very well thought out, and maybe shouldn’t go ahead after all.
This is because the Committee isn’t convinced that the British Bill of Rights will be that different from the existing Human Rights Act. Though we (still) have no draft of the proposed law, the rights are likely to be pretty similar to what we have already, so the necessity of legislative reform is unclear.
Lord Richards raised concerns about this very point in February during an evidence giving session. He reportedly said to a bumbling Gove:
I am a bit lost. You are saying yes, we agree with the convention. What on earth do you want to repeal the act for?
The Committee is also apprehensive that the reform, if it goes ahead, may damage the UK’s place in the international arena, and may lead to increased reliance on EU human rights legislation.
Furthermore, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, who chairs the Committee, pointed out that scrapping the Human Rights Act could unintentionally increase the UK’s European human rights law obligations, stating:
Many witnesses thought that restricting the scope of the Human Rights Act would lead to an increase in reliance on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK courts, which has stronger enforcement mechanisms. This seemed to be a perverse consequence of a Bill of Rights intended to give human rights greater UK identity.
She went on to raise concerns that Scotland and Wales’ devolved governments could block a Bill of Rights — meaning it would apply to England only, before concluding:
The more evidence we heard on this issue the more convinced we became that the government should think again about its proposals for a British Bill of Rights. The time is now right for it to do so.