Since the Conservatives pledged to scrap the 1998 Human Right Act, or 'HRA' for short, there has been constant debate as to whether such a move is the right one to make. The purpose of the act is to ensure that the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is enshrined in domestic law. The Conservative party, however, wishes to create a British Bill of Rights (BBR), one that is not bound by European Courts. The proposed case that supports this is that the European Courts of Human Rights, at present, have the power to override British court rulings and law and replacing the ECHR with a British Bill of Rights would prevent this.
The Conservatives' plan, known as The Conservatives' Proposals for Changing Britain's Human Rights Laws', highlights the fact that the ECHR has developed 'mission creep', Strasbourg sees the Convention as a 'living instrument' and that such a view, they argue, allows them to expand the limits of the Convention. Such an expansion enables them to increase their influence, citing examples such as the current dispute between the Court and the UK over prisoners' voting rights and the banning of life sentences. The act is also continuously taken advantage of by foreign individuals who commit serious crimes. Currently the HRA guarantees such criminals their continued residency in the UK which has also caused dispute. One only needs to look at recent history for examples, such as the five year long legal battle that cost £1.7 million to extradite Abu Qatada.
At present the HRA undermines the role of the UK courts in deciding on human rights issues and even undermines the sovereignty of Parliament and democratic accountability to the public. The proposals outlines are founded in two principle legal facts. Firstly, there is no formal requirement for our Courts to treat the Strasbourg Court as creating legal precedent for the UK and secondly in all matters related to our international commitments, Parliament is sovereign.
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove has been tasked with drafting the British Bill of Rights within the first 100 days of Government. It is thought that the bill will face a fair share of opposition from the backbenches of the Tory party as well as opposition in the House of Lords. Many have taken action outside of Parliament too in an attempt to prevent the pledge coming to fruition.Those who do so vehemently defend the HRA and propose that moving away from the principles of the ECHR 'would weaken human rights of the most vulnerable'.
Critics such as Shami Chakrabarti, from Liberty, have condemned the proposals calling them the 'gravest threat to freedom in Britain since the Second World War', a position that is not easy to dismiss when considering Amnesty International's argument that the act and the original Convention have helped advance civil rights and protects innocent individuals from having their fingerprints and DNA information held on databases. The critics seem to forget to acknowledge that the Conservative Party's values of protecting fundamental human rights is a hallmark of a democratic society and that the proposals only seek to restore sovereignty to the UK's courts on the matter of Human Rights.
What good is a Human Rights Act that comforts and safeguards our country's enemies and risks the safety of law-abiding citizens and what good is a court that is not supreme in its own country? The present position the UK is in under the ECHR is intolerable and unacceptable. We must break the formal link between the British courts and the ECHR and prevent our laws from being re-written through 'interpretation'. A British Bill of Rights is the right thing for the country; we must bring our rights home. As Isaiah Berlin once said, "freedom for the pike is death for the minnows" and we shall be no minnow in the European pond.