Will the Human Rights Act survive the May 6th election?

15 April 2010 by

The three main political parties have now have set out their stalls on human rights in their election manifestos, and the future of the Human Rights Act is very much in the balance.

We have been following the arguments for and against a Bill of Rights, which has been proposed either as a replacement for or supplement to the Human Rights Act 1998.

After a period of uncertainty, now only the Conservative Party say they will actually replace the Human Rights Act, with both Labour and the Liberal Democrats committing to keeping it on the statute books. The Conservatives have not spelled out how or within what time frame their plans will take shape. Dominic Grieve, the shadow justice secretary, spoke to lawyers recently on the issue but provided little further detail.

The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in October 2000, and despite approaching its 10th birthday, it still inspires strong views either in support or opposition. As Francis Gibb writes in The Times, “it… became derided by the Government’s own ministers as well as by the Conservatives as a “charter for the undeserving” and for criminals.”

The two parties which support keeping the Act may be reluctant to raise the issue over other more obvious vote winners, and as such it remains to be seen how much it will feature in debate leading up to the election. However, whether or not it becomes a key issue on the soap boxes, the fate of the Human Rights Act will be one of the important lasting effects of this election.

The manifestos can be found (in alphabetical order) below:

  • The Conservative Party, who promise to, amongst other things “Replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights
  • The Labour Party: “We are proud to have brought in the Human Rights Act, enabling British citizens to take action in British courts rather than having to wait years to seek redress in Strasbourg. We will not repeal or resile from it.”
  • The Liberal Democrats promise to “Ensure that everyone has the same protections under the law by protecting the Human Rights Act.”

There has been a significant amount of commentary in the media:

  • In-depth analysis of the Labour manifesto, Lib Dem manifesto and the Conservatives’ manifesto on the Human Rights in Ireland Blog
  • Frances Gibb in The Times asks whether the Human Rights Act should be replaced
  • Francesca Klug in The Guardian: “We would be the first democracy in the world to introduce a bill of rights on the back of scrapping one already on the statute book. The UK would sit alongside Belarus as virtually the only country in Europe not to have incorporated the ECHR into domestic law.”
  • Henry Porter in The Guardian: “… those looking for sweeping redress from the Conservative be disappointed by the milk and water commitment to civil liberties. The shadow justice minister Dominic Grieve, good man that he is, has clearly lost the battle to commit his party to an ambitious portmanteau bill that would repeal Labour’s attack on liberty.”

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