According to today’s The Independent on Sunday the Conservatives plan to fast-track a British (UK?) Bill of Rights into domestic law by next summer (see, too, the perhaps rather optimistic, but well-balanced editorial here). It would seem most likely that the politics surrounding the passing of such important legislation will intervene to frustrate this proposed timeframe, but we shall have to wait to see.
The Independent’s report makes the following points (in blue, below), which I believe will be of interest to readers of this blog, and I also offer a few comments on the issues at stake. [Picture Credit – see Below]
There will be a 12 week consultation process to commence in November or December (not ‘the autumn’ as Ministers had previously said). The Bill will go straight to the House of Commons, without a Green or White Paper.
Comment: it is not clear when precisely the period will start, but 12 weeks, including the Christmas period (?), would be a very short period for matters of such magnitude to be consulted upon. The government’s argument may be that they have made their intentions plain for quite a long while. A key point, however, is that, whilst the overall intention to repeal the HRA has been clear, the actual detail of the Bill of Rights replacement, has not – far from it. Big questions remain as to, amongst other things, what impact the new Bill may have on the UK’s relations with the Convention, and the level of human rights protection to be afforded in the UK context. This is an area in respect of which it is most certainly accurate to say that ‘the devil is in the detail’.
In that last connection it may be noteworthy that on 30 June, in a Westminister Hall debate, Dominic Raab, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, noted that some had ‘lamented the lack of detail in the Government’s current proposals [to date]’. His response was that:
one issue with the Human Rights Act, arguably, is that it was rushed through, as it was introduced within six months. As a result of that haste, some problems have now emerged that we were warned of at the Act’s inception. The Government are not going to rush in the way the then Labour Government rushed through the Human Rights Act. We will take a little time, because we want to get it done right rather than quickly (Hansard: 30 June 2015, Westminster Hall debate Vol 597, Col 428WH).
The Independent’s report states that the new, proposed Bill of Rights will mirror much of the language of the Convention.
Comment: The real issue, of course, is the extent to which, aside from echoing the Convention’s language, other aspects of the Bill will downgrade domestic protection of human rights and force a disagreement between a UK interpretation of Convention rights, and the Strasbourg Court’s. This brings us to the last point…
The Independent’s report states that the wording of the proposals will make it clear that the UK ‘will not pull out of the ECHR’.
Comment: The words just used in quote-marks are The Independent’s. It will be interesting to see if the actual proposals put forward by the government will be as unequivocal, in particular recalling the Conservative’s October 2014 document on human rights, and the apparent inability of (some) Ministers since to offer a straight answer to questions related to the UK withdrawal from the ECHR.
The gist of the October 2014 document was to set out the prospect of the UK’s withdrawal from the Convention as the last resort solution to the problem (as the authors of the Conservative’s October 2014 document saw it) of preventing the inappropriate intrusion of the Strasbourg jurisprudence into domestic law, and of the Strasbourg Court’s more general unwelcome influence on the UK (as that document’s authors saw it).
Arguably, withdrawal from the ECHR became the stick hidden behind the UK’s back (so-to-speak) which set the context to the UK’s immediate future relationship with the Council of Europe and the Strasbourg Court. In the context of the October 2014 document this stick seemed to be envisaged as a means of getting the Council of Europe to somehow recognise the validity of a proposed realignment of UK-Strasbourg relations, which the new proposed British (UK?) Bill of Rights would form a part of. (That said, it is not at all clear that the Council of Europe would be willing to enter into such a process of discussion and approval with the UK. Even if it did it would be almost inconceivable that it would be willing to condone anything which was regarded as making the UK a special case when it came to the protection of human rights under the Convention system).
On the UK’s withdrawal generally and how the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe fears that this could lead to the disintegration of the Convention system overall, see this interview with the Secretary-General of just a few days ago.
So… we await the details of the Conservative’s plans with great interest, and to finding out just when the starting gun will be fired on the 12 week consultation process.
Picture Credit: The Spectator (this picture can be removed on request).