Towards a UK Bill of Rights?

2 March 2010 by

The proposals for a UK Bill of Rights will be an important issue in the coming election, and we aim to keep you updated on developments. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has published a research report on a potential UK Bill of Rights. All three of the major UK political parties have pledged to institute a bill of rights in some form. The Report summarises the position:

The Labour Government is consulting the public on a UK Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, while maintaining its commitment to the HRA, including both the rights enshrined in it and the mechanisms used to implement those rights. The Conservative Party has pledged to repeal the HRA and replace it with a ‘modern British Bill of Rights’. Repealing the HRA would mean that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would no longer be incorporated into domestic law; the party has not indicated whether, or how, a future Bill of Rights might incorporate the ECHR using a different mechanism. The Liberal Democrats are committed to a written constitution with, at its heart, a Bill of Rights which would strengthen and entrench the rights guaranteed in the HRA.

The EHRC Report is critical of the parties’ proposals, and concludes:

… current circumstances for any process to create a new UK Bill of Rights are unfavourable. Public understanding of, and enthusiasm for, a Bill of Rights is not assured and there is little discernable popular or civil society momentum behind the idea. The Labour Government’s consultation on a proposed Bill of Rights and Responsibilities has not reached the wider public sphere. It remains to be seen how far the deliberative events held as part of the consultation might be used to ignite public interest and how far the consultation will engage directly with disadvantaged and disaffected groups.

Trevor Philips of the EHRC has summarised the findings of the report in a Guardian opinion piece. However, not all commentators are against repealing and replacing the Human Rights Act. Vernon Bogdanor, the British constitutional expect, writes in the Times:

… that all three parties propose in effect to strengthen the Human Rights Act is encouraging. It means that we are learning to do what Dicey said we could never do, namely distinguish between “fundamental” and “non-fundamental” laws. We are moving in a tortuous and crab-like way towards establishing real constitutional principles, towards becoming, not before time, a genuinely constitutional state.

See also: Why we need a British Bill of Rights by Geoffrey Robinson, which we have already linked to in January.

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