Liz Truss announces that the British Bill of Rights is back on the agenda
The new Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, said in an interview that the abolition of the Human rights Act and its replacement with the British Bill of Rights is back on the agenda. On the 10 August, The Times had suggested that it was not going forward. As we speculated on this blog a while ago, the sheer amount of work needed to negotiate new trade agreements with the world and our exit from the EU, is going to consume parliamentary effort and ministerial time on an enormous scale. Will they have time and energy to spend time haggling with the Lords over a new bill with all the rest that is going on? Then there are the complex relations with Scotland and Northern Ireland to consider. This pledge has been around for 10 years now yet Liz Truss gives no timetable.
We are committed to [abolishing the Human Rights Act]. It is a manifesto pledge. We are looking very closely at the details but we have a manifesto pledge to deliver that Liz Truss
The result will at best be a modest change in the law unless we are going to withdraw from the European Court itself. This will have widespread effects especially in eastern Europe where the Court’s activities has had a positive effect on human rights.
The shame of it is that the public anger about the ‘terrorist’s charter’ and other nonsenses are fostered by the media and few of our MPs and Ministers seem to have the courage to stand up to them. The Daily Mail, the Sun and the Daily Express are often loud in their criticisms but connection to actual facts is often weak. But even periodicals like the Spectator – a venerable political weekly – is not above publishing tendentious material. The hostility to the act is in part we argue, due to the privacy clauses which give some protection to those who have suffered press intrusion for no good reason other than boosting newspaper sales.
Abu Qatada is frequently produced as evidence that the act doesn’t work and meant, allegedly, that we were not able to deport him. Firstly, if he was such a terrible man, why was he not arrested and prosecuted here? Secondly, the failure of the Home Office and the then Home Secretary Theresa May to deport him was not the HRA but treaties we have which prevent us returning people to countries where torture is routine (as well as the HRA). Qatada would not have had a fair trial in Jordan because, at the time torture, was common there.
We often read that duties and responsibilities are to be added as there are many – not just on the Conservative back benches – who are unhappy with ‘rights’ and feel that such rights should only be available to those who act responsibility. How this would work is not explained. Who’s to judge what ‘responsible’ means? A police officer at the time of arrest feels that the person behaved irresponsibly and therefore decides not to allow the person access to a lawyer – a provision in the HRA? Some rights are absolute and do not depend on good behaviour. Other rights are qualified anyway.
It is hard not to see a parallel with the Brexit debate. Years were spend denigrating the EU and then when it mattered, those like the previous prime minister, David Cameron, wanted to persuade country to Remain, he lacked conviction. He was hoist by his own petard, or more colloquially, ‘stuffed’.
A concerted campaign has been waged by the media against the act and stories produced which only occasionally have any relation to the truth. We have suggested before to refer to Rights Info to get the background and a sober assessment of some of the fictions.
Whether the BBoR ever sees the light of day remains to be seen. It is likely that this is a rash statement by the new Lord Chancellor which may quietly drift into the background when the difficulties and disadvantages are explained. But it will continue to lurk until a sufficient number of MPs – like those in the Runnymede group – stand up and speak positively about the act and the benefits it has brought to thousands of ordinary citizens who have used it to secure basic rights, stories that rarely find their way into print.
Salisbury MP, John Glen is among those who have publicly called for the act to be abolished.
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Sources: The National; The Times; http://www.parliament.co.uk; Spectator; Daily Express