Theresa May is wrong to say human rights law stands in the way of the fight against terror, experts have told HuffPost UK.
Under pressure after the London Bridge attack, the prime minister gave a speech on Tuesday saying she would rewrite laws that stop the Government acting to prevent further attacks.
Three men killed eight people and injured dozens in their rampage on Saturday.
The attack prompted difficult questions for the Government and security services who had monitored one of the attackers but concluded he was not a threat.
In a campaign speech in Slough two days before the election, May outlined tougher measures to “make sure that the police and security and intelligence agencies have the powers they need”.
She added: “If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it.”
But human rights experts have denied Britain’s Human Rights Act is a practical obstacle to fighting terror and said the changes May suggested would not necessarily conflict with it.
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner said he did not know of any terror attack where the Act had prevented the authorities from acting to stop it.
“It’s always tempting to respond to terrorism by saying we need stricter laws,” he told HuffPost UK.
“I’ve not seen any particular terrorist attack where there’s been a clear link found between something the authorities couldn’t do because of human rights law and the outcome...
“In the London Bridge attacks, it seems to be more about the way the authorities used intelligence rather than not being able to deport people or intern them for 28 days without charge.”
The Human Rights Act makes the European Convention on Human Rights, which Britain was instrumental in drafting in the 1950s, enforceable in UK courts.
Its rights include privacy, a fair trial and family life, which has prevented some foreign-born criminals being deported from Britain.
In her Slough speech, May said she would look at deporting more people, restricting terror suspects’ movement and legislating for authorities to be able to detain them for up to 28 days without charge.
Wagner said: “The fact she’s not making any specific suggestions or changes [to human rights law] is important.
“The reality is, the things she’s mentioning and wants to change, will probably be permitted within human rights law.”
Rachel Robinson, acting policy director at civil rights group Liberty and a former barrister, said human rights law did not stop the Government from legislating “even very serious counter-terror measures”.
“Almost all of the rights [in the Act] are qualified rights. So in the interests of national security, effective, targetted and proportionate measures can be taken forward without breaching human rights laws,” she said.
“The fact [The Government] wins many cases shows how sensitive our human rights framework is to the broader public interest.”
Both Wagner and Robinson stressed that the British Government has won most human rights court cases brought against it by terror suspects.
David Anderson, the QC who was the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation until March, wrote that the last eight times Britain had to defend its terror laws before the European court had “resulted wholly or very substantially in victory for the Government”.
He said that human rights do not “unthinkingly prioritise individual rights over our responsibilities to each other” and Governments have “a wide discretion” in how to apply them.
Robinson said the Government’s court victories showed the law was “extremely flexible”.
“The depiction of human rights as somehow offering a carte blanche in these situations is completely inaccurate, because considerations of national security are such an important part of the balancing exercise carried out by our courts,” she said.
“That’s why the Human Rights Act is able to act so effectively in protecting rights and freedoms but not preventing the state from doing things which genuinely are targeted and effective as a way of countering terrorism.”
Wagner added: “In almost every case that a suspected or actual terrorist goes to the European Court of Human Rights, the state wins.
“I’m sure it’s very frustrating for a Home Secretary to have to deal with those cases but that’s the price of the rule of law.”
Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International wrote on HuffPost UK that May was asking people “to think human rights as some kind of blockage to law-enforcement in this country”.
Yesterday’s comments were opportunistic and dishonest Rachel Robinson, Liberty
Allen said: “Yes, there should be serious conversations about our resourcing of the police and the security services.
“And yes, we need to ensure that our law-enforcement bodies can process potentially life-saving intelligence quickly and efficiently.
“But human rights are themselves a vital part of that work, not obstacles to it.”
Robinson called May’s comments “opportunistic and dishonest”.
Though May suggested restricting terror suspects’ movement, Robinson pointed out it was May who abolished control orders, which did just that, when she was home secretary.
May also abolished the 28-day detention before charge for terror suspects, which the Labour government had introduced.
Robinson said: “Yesterday’s comments were opportunistic and dishonest. She knows these are discredited and ineffective ways of responding to the terror threat.”
She added: “By threatening to undermine our rights and freedoms through these knee-jerk, ineffective measures, the Prime Minister is actually handing a victory to the terrorists whilst doing nothing to keep us safer.”