The newly appointed justice secretary, Michael Gove, is to proceed with plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. The news comes days after the Conservative Party achieved a majority in the House of Commons in the recent General Election, and aims to implement human rights reforms that had previously been blocked by the Liberal Democrats during the coalition government.
The human rights reforms have formed a key part of the Conservative Party manifesto in recent elections and have been designed to reduce the influence of European jurisdiction on UK law. The changes would mean that the European Court of Human Rights would no longer have any legal guidance over the UK Supreme Court, although British citizens would still be able to appeal any adverse human rights decision.
The reasoning behind the abolition of the Human Rights Act is complicated, although it ties in closely with the Government’s current plans to hold a referendum on the EU and ultimately reduce the level of European interference on UK law. In their manifesto, the Conservative party has criticised the European Court’s willingness to interpret the European Convention of Human Rights as a ‘living instrument’, stating that recent decisions have expanded Convention rights into new areas, and ‘certainly beyond what the framers of the Convention had in mind when they signed up to it’.
In addition, it has been argued that the current Human Rights Act, which codified the European Convention into UK law, has undermined the role of the UK Courts in deciding human rights issues and has also threatened the fundamental constitutional principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty. In such instances, there have been cases where the UK courts have gone to artificial lengths to interpret legislation so that it complies with Convention rights, to the extent that Parliament’s original intention has been ignored.
Despite this however, the Government’s plans for human rights reform have been met with strong resistance from both sides of the political spectrum; not least by the former justice secretary Kenneth Clarke. The Scottish government has already made it abundantly clear that it is their intention to keep the European convention, and plans for replacing the Human Rights Act would also be in direct breach of the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement of 1998. It is quite ironic therefore, that such an area of reform designed to strengthen the UK, could in fact lead to a fractious relationship within the devolved areas of the British Isles.
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