General election: Human Rights Act ‘safer now than it has been for years’, says top LSE human rights professor Conor Gearty

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By Katie King on

Exclusive: Conor Gearty tells Legal Cheek why he thinks our rights are secure under brand new Tory-led coalition

Professor Conor Gearty, one of the country’s leading law academics, has told Legal Cheek he’s not worried about the fate of human rights legislation under Theresa May’s new government.

Speaking to me just moments after it was revealed the Tories had lost their majority in parliament and were hoping to form a minority government instead, I asked the LSE professor if he was worried about human rights laws under May.

To this, he said:

Human rights law in this country, at least in its shape of the Human Rights Act (HRA), is safer now than it has been for years.

Why? Given the Conservatives’ dwindling presence in parliament, Gearty doesn’t think there will be enough people behind May — a vocal HRA critic — if she was to propose amendment or repeal. Though he reckons there may be derogations from the act, Gearty, formerly of King’s College London, concluded: “She is so severely weakened so it’s probable they [the Tories] won’t pick fights anytime soon with human rights law. They have bigger fish to fry.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly given his long career in human rights academia and practice (he was a founding member of Matrix Chambers), Gearty is a strong proponent of the “first-class piece of law” that is the HRA, and dismisses the tabloid-led criticism of it as “fantasy” and “unmeritorious”. He said:

If you want to criticise the HRA, make sure you’ve never read it, because the most strident critics in the new Trumpian post-fact world of ‘facts don’t matter’ are those who haven’t a clue, with respect, what they’re talking about.

But Gearty didn’t always wave a human rights law flag. He admits he was unsure about drafting European rights into domestic law in the 1990s because he feared it encroached on parliamentary sovereignty. But he thinks the HRA — which came into effect in 2000 under Tony Blair — “got the balance right” on parliamentary sovereignty and judicial checks and balances.

It’s healthy for budding human rights lawyers to adopt the same level of scepticism as he did back in the day, Gearty thinks. But his golden piece of advice for aspiring solicitors and barristers is this:

Follow your own instincts, be true to yourself and let the future look after itself.

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