Today’s Mail on Sunday reports that the Home Secretary is to announce “soon” that the Conservative Party’s election manifesto for 2015 will include a pledge to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights if the party obtains an overall majority.
Debate about whether the Human Rights Act (HRA) might be replaced by a new UK Bill of Rights often dwells on the potential loss, or at least weakening, of the legal route to accountability and redress for victims of human rights violations. An event next month in Liverpool reminds us how much more might be lost if the HRA were to be scrapped or watered down. In particular, it highlights the significance of section 6 of the Act, which requires all public authorities to act in a way which is compatible with European Convention rights unless primary legislation requires them to act otherwise.
On 7th September 2015, Judge Robert Spano (of the European Court of Human Rights) spoke at a high-level international conference on “The Role of Parliaments in the Realisation and Protection of the Rule of Law and Human Rights”, organised by Murray Hunt, Legal Adviser to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights. This was his second public intervention in the United Kingdom since his seminal speech on “Universality or Diversity of Human Rights: Strasbourg in the Age of Subsidiarity” delivered at Oxford in 2014, the first having been covered by UK Human Rights Blog here, and built upon his earlier speeches by elaborating on four post-Brighton Declaration cases in which the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (the European Court) applied the principle of subsidiarity to find no violation of human rights, considering that the cases fell within the national margin of appreciation, after having examined evidence demonstrating that the national Parliaments had considered the human rights issues. Taken collectively, the four cases demonstrate that Strasbourg is well and truly in the age of subsidiarity, deferring to the decisions of national Parliaments, provided those Parliaments had considered the human rights implications of legislation. Whether this will satisfy Conservative Party concerns that membership of the European Convention on Human Rights is incompatible with the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty will be explored at the end of this post. Continue reading →
“Our aim is a straightforward one”, New Labour Party told us in October 1997 “[it is] to bring those rights home”. In 2000, the Human Rights Act came into force. For the first time, people in the UK had human rights which could be enforced in UK courts. The right to life, the right not to be tortured, to free speech. What was not to love?
If only it was that simple. 1997 seems a very long time ago. Now, in the final few hours before the 2015 Election, we see the major parties fundamentally divided on human rights.I haven’t written about the Election and human rights yet, mainly because I have been setting up a wonderful new human rights website, rightsinfo.org (more on that later).
Update, 15:15:I originally referred below to there being a majority of six versus two in favour of introducing a bill of rights. This was wrong – in fact there were seven. The Commission chair, Sir Leigh Lewis, should have been included in that number.
The Commission on a Bill of Rights has reported, just in time for its end-of-2012 deadline. The documents are here: News release ; Volume 1 ; Volume 2.
I have read the introduction, which sets out the main proposals. A few things that jumped out:
As predicted by most people since the beginning, there are areas of agreement but also some significant disagreements. Only seven out of the nine Commissioners believe there should be a bill of rights. Helena Kennedy and Philippe Sands disagree. Even the title is equivocal: “A UK Bill of Rights? The choice before us“.
This is not a unified document, but rather a running, almost Socratic, dialectic between the nine members. It is difficult to follow who agrees with which bit, even in individual paragraphs which are often qualified by “a majority believes”. Bizarrely, and going beyond even my pessimistic expectations of strife, there are eight (eight!) separate papers written by individuals and groups of individuals included in the report, including one by Lord Faulks and Jonathan Fisher on the European Court and why it is going beyond its original remit, one by Sands and Kennedy on why they don’t think there should be a bill of rights, a personal explanatory note by Lord Lester… it goes on. That is one of the reasons this is such a long document.
The proposition that burglars have rights incites debate, and sometimes anger, which is often directed towards the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention of Human Rights. However, on closer examination, the idea of “burglars’ rights” is not a new phenomenon in English law, and nor has it been imposed upon us by Strasbourg. The rights that burglars enjoy have long been part of the fabric of English common law.
There is nothing new about the idea that criminals in general, and burglars in particular, have forfeited their human rights by virtue of their criminality.
As Michael Cholbi of the University of New York has described in his article discussing felon disenfranchisement in the United States, “A Felon’s Right to Vote”, the strong conviction held by some that criminals should not enjoy the benefit of human rights is founded upon a basic intuition that “criminal acts alter the moral status of wrongdoers, permitting us to do to them what is otherwise unjust”. Essentially, having demonstrated an unwillingness to regulate their own conduct, criminals cease to be an object of moral concern. Continue reading →
Four Conservatives and four Liberal Democrats told to “sort out” UK human rights (the terms of reference were a little less vague, but that’s basically it), whilst also being limited to proposing a Bill of Rights that “incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights“. In other words, the could do very little at all except fiddle with our already existing, and actually quite elegant, Human Rights Act 1998. I have compared any new Bill of Rights arising from the Commission a bit like an updated Ford Fiesta; a new look and a few new features, but essentially the same car.
There will be plenty of analysis once the report is released. I wanted to concentrate here on the likely reaction. Matthew Parris got it right in Saturday’s Times (£) when he quoted Edmund Burke:
The consultation document is here and reproduced below. You have until 11 November 2011 to respond and you can do so via email or post.
The document provides a useful and fairly noncontroversial summary of rights protections as they currently exist within the UK constitutional structure. It does not, however, provide any information at all about what a “bill of rights” might entail or how such instruments work in other countries: contrast the far more detailed (and very useful) document produced in 2010 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Last week, a number of media commentators, politicians and others sought to subvert the second consultation of the Bill of Rights Commission. This consultation invites views on a number of key issues that form part of the Commission’s mandate. In the Daily Mail’s correspondent’s view, the Commission has committed an appalling transgression by asking potential respondents whether the UK Bill of Rights should include additional rights, referring amongst other things to socio-economic rights. This is echoed by the Sun which argues that the Commission has ‘suggested’ (which it clearly has not) that ‘all Brits be given handouts as a birth right’, and the Daily Express which suggests “Spongers can Sue to Claim Benefits”.
Some legal oratory flows into the profound, beautiful and inspiring. Most of the time when it comes to poetry – as this particularly appalling ditty is designed to demonstrate – we lawyers should stick to the day job.*
This week human rights commentators celebrated both World Poetry Day and the launch of a new project on the conservative commitment to human rights. Announcing a Commission made up of MPs and commentators – including Maria Miller MP, Dominic Grieve QC MP and Matthew D’Ancona – Bright Blue this week published a series of essays by Conservative leaders on a range of human rights threats; from the refugee crisis to the repeal of the Human Rights Act.
Bright Blue now joins the Labour Campaign for Human Rights in taking steps to take the current debate beyond the heat and light of party politics and into a greater conversation about how we protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our communities and about the UK’s place in the world.
Ibrahim and others v United Kingdom [GC], App nos. 50541/08, 50571/08, 50573/08, and 40351/09 – read the judgment here
The Grand Chamber has found a violation of Article 6(1) and 6(3)(c) in relation to one of the four applicants before it, partially overturning the earlier decision of the Chamber and providing much food for thought on the future of Article 6.
by David Scott. Many thanks to my colleagues at University of Zurich for comments on earlier drafts of this piece. Any mistakes are undoubtedly my own.
In his speech at yesterday’s Conservative Party conference, the Prime Minister confirmed that the party’s 2015 election manifesto will include a commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and replace it with a “British Bill of Rights”. Last night, however, The Scotsman newspaper quoted a Scotland Office spokesman as saying that the change would not apply in Scotland. According to the article, the spokesman “confirmed that human rights legislation is devolved to the Scottish Parliament because it was ‘built into the 1998 Scotland Act [and] cannot by removed [by Westminster].’” As reported, this statement is seriously misleading. However, it does highlight genuine difficulties that devolution creates for the implementation of plans to reform human rights law. Continue reading →
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly summary of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
In the news
Human rights continue to be big news this week, with Andrew Neil’s Rights Gone Wrong? programme exploring the rather divisive issues that Human Rights bring up for the British public. The proposed reforms to the European Court of Human Rights and the Bill of Rights made news again also, along with such controversies as the right to die, open justice and kettling.
Welcome back to the UK Human Rights Roundup, your weekly smorgasbord of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
A bumper edition this week, mostly thanks to Lord Justice Leveson and his long-awaited report, released this week to a tumult of online commentary. In overshadowed, but potentially no less significant news, the House of Lords approved amendments to the “secret courts” Justice and Security Bill; the Joint Committee on Human Rights reported on the Crime and Courts Bill, and we have another round of arguments for and against the UK’s continuing association with the European Court of Human Rights.
The Foreign Secretary William Hague has sought in today’s Daily Telegraph to re-emphasise the “centrality of human rights in the core values” of UK foreign policy. On the face of it, this is a laudable aim. But does it really mean anything? And may it in fact amount to an unrealisable promise?
The editorial evokes Mr Hague’s early commitment to put human rights at the “irreducible core” of UK foreign policy. This pledge has been questioned recently due to the potential reduction in scope of the Foreign Office’s annual human rights report. Mr Hague addresses this directly, although with little new detail:
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