Exclusive: Tory proposals for “Bill of Rights”

This will be announced tomorrow.  The text below was provided to me in circumstances where I was not bound by the “embargo”. It is in the public interest for this to be published as soon as possible and for these proposals to be subject to open and wide discussion, including expert analysis.  I apologise to any journalists whose copy was adversely affected by my disclosure; my intention was not to “scoop” any rival.  For completeness, I derive no commercial or financial benefit from this blog (there are not even adverts!).

European Court of Human Rights will lose its power to order change in Britain.

A majority Conservative Government will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act, and will end the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to order changes to British laws.  Today the Conservatives are publishing a strategy paper which sets out how that will be achieved.

At the heart of the reform will be a new British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities that will restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK. A draft of the Bill will be published for consultation before Christmas. Among other things the Bill will stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using human rights to prevent deportation. It will make it clear that people have clear responsibilities to society, and that there is a proper balance between rights and responsibilities in British law.

The Bill will remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights which the United Kingdom signed up to in the original European Human Rights Convention, but it will reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of society as a whole.

The new measure will:

  •  Repeal Labour’s 1998 Human Rights Act.
  •  Break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights. In future Britain’s courts will no longer be required to take into account rulings from the Court in Strasbourg. This will make our Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK.
  •  End the ability of the European Court to require the UK to change British laws. Every judgement against the UK will be treated as advisory and will have to be approved by Parliament if it is to lead to a change in our laws.
  •  Define much more clearly when and how Human Rights laws in the UK are to be applied. This will end the ability of the Courts to decide unilaterally to apply Human Rights laws to whole new areas of public life.
  •  Limit the use of Human Rights laws to the most serious cases. They will no longer apply in trivial cases.
  •  Balance rights and responsibilities. People who do not fulfil their responsibilities in society should not be able to claim so-called “qualified rights” in their defence in a court of law.
  •  Ensure that those who pose a national security risk to this country or have entered it illegally cannot rely on questionable human rights claims to prevent their deportation.

The plan provides a proper balance between the rights of citizens and their responsibilities in our society, and in particular to limit the ability of those who threaten British citizens or society to use human rights laws to protect their interests at the expense of the victims or potential victims.

It will protect basic rights, like the right to a fair trial, and the right to life, which are an essential part of a modern democratic society.

Examples of how the new law will be different include:

  •  Terrorists and serious criminals who pose a significant threat to the security and safety of UK citizens would lose their right to stay here under Human Rights Laws.
  •  People who commit serious crimes in the UK, and in doing so infringe upon the basic rights of others, should lose their right to claim the right to stay here under the right to family life. So for example, a foreign criminal, guilty of causing death by dangerous driving and so taking away the rights of another citizen, would not be able to claim family rights to stay in the UK.
  •  No one would be able to claim human rights to allow them to step outside the law that applies to all other citizens, for example a group of travellers claiming the right to family life to breach planning laws.
  •  The right to family life would be much more limited in scope. For example an illegal immigrant would not be able to claim the right to family life to stay in the UK because he had fathered children here when he is playing no active part in the upbringing of those children.
  •   Limit the reach of human rights cases to the UK, so that British Armed forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job and keep us safe.

The move follows widespread debate about the role of the European Court of Human Rights in UK matters and whether it has the right to overrule Parliament. Earlier this week the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge warned that “it would be a negation of the democratic process for Members of Parliament to be obliged to vote for a measure with which they disagree” if ordered to do so by Strasbourg.  He also states “ultimate sovereignty does not rest with the courts, but with Parliament.  What is more, in our arrangements, although Parliament is expected to respect a Treaty obligation, it is not bound to do so”.

Elsewhere in his article he says: “In my view in any country which embraces the principle of democracy, and certainly in the United Kingdom, ultimate authority over constitutional and societal questions is not vested in a body of judges, however wise and distinguished, and even if the system for their appointment is beyond criticism.” His move followed an assertion by the President of the Court that they had the right to overrule MPs.

The strategy paper and draft Bill have been drawn up by leading Conservative QCs following a series of extensive discussions with lawyers, academics and Parliamentarians.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:

“We cannot go on with a situation where crucial decisions about how this country is run and how we protect our citizens are taken by the European Court of Human Rights and not by our Parliament and our own courts. We also have to be much clearer about when human rights laws should be used, and that rights have to be balanced with responsibilities. People in this country are fed up with human rights being used as an excuse for unacceptable behaviour.

“We will always stand against real human rights abuses, and political persecution. But these plans will make sure that we put Britain first and restore common sense to human rights in this country.”

The Rt Hon Lord Howard of Lympne, CH, QC said:

“The argument is not about human rights, to which we all subscribe.   No, the argument today is whether arrangements such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act actually help to protect such rights or, by the way in which they have operated, bring the concept into disrepute.

“Certainly, the way in which the Convention on Human Rights has been interpreted is far removed from its founders’ intentions.

“We are simply restoring parliamentary sovereignty, and some much needed common sense, to our human rights laws.”

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