Liz Truss, the newly appointed UK Lord Chancellor, told BBC radio 4 that the government is ‘committed’ to scrapping the Human Rights Act (HRA 1998) and replacing it with a “British bill of rights.”
What is the Human Rights Act?
The Human Rights Act came into force in the UK in 2000, it effectively enshrines the protections in the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.
Many conservatives have long opposed the Human Rights Act, particularly since the Strasbourg Court protected prisoners’ rights to vote and refused several deportation orders. The move to scrap the act formed part of David Cameron’s 2015 election manifesto but since then the political landscape in the UK is barely recognisable.
Human Rights activists argue that Britain needs the “HRA 1998” more than ever citing widespread division and uncertainty in post-Brexit Britain. Many are wary of replacing the Human Rights Act with a “pick and mix”- bill, written by civil servants and politicians.
Theresa May’s track-record on Human Rights, and the right to privacy in particular, is not seen in a positive light. As Home Secretary she introduced draft legislation nicknamed “the snoopers’ charter” which would compel internet service providers and telecoms companies to store all personal communication data for one year (including records of calls, texts, emails and entire browsing histories). Dozens of public bodies could then use the data.
Before being sacked in Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle, former Justice Secretary Michael Gove was responsible for drafting the bill. Unlike May, Gove was pro-Brexit yet in favour of upholding the European Convention on Human Rights.
He faced considerable opposition from a cross-party parliamentary committee, which warned that the proposed bill would undermine the UK’s international legal standing and “unravel” the constitution. A report from the committee stated:
“We urge the government not to introduce domestic human rights legislation that would jeopardise the UK’s participation in this important area of EU cooperation in the fight against international crime.”
Irish justice minister Frances Fitzgerald asked Michael Gove to consider Northern Ireland, citing Strasbourg’s external supervision as “an essential part of the peace process” without which the Good Friday Agreement could be in serious jeopardy.
It is unclear what the British bill of rights would look like. Drafts, due to be published before the EU referendum, were delayed. A consultation on the future of Human Rights is now to be published “in due course”.
The Equality and Human Rights commission said:
“We welcome a debate on such an important issue and look forward to contributing to the development of ideas but would not support a reversal of the leading global role Britain has long played in protecting and promoting human rights.”