Charlie Falconer on why Ministers must end their brinkmanship over the Human Rights Act
The disastrous proposals to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights should be dropped immediately. They are at best pointless and at worst dangerous. They would weaken Britain’s standing in the world and send the wrong message to repressive regimes worldwide.
Earlier this month, the House of Lords EU Committee questioned the very need for such a Bill at all noting that the current proposals appear ‘a far less ambitious proposal than the one outlined in the Conservative Party manifesto’.
The Committee were equally damning on Michael Gove’s evidence to them, saying ’The proposals the Secretary of State outlined did not appear to depart significantly from the Human Rights Act—we note in particular that all the rights contained within the ECHR are likely to be affirmed in any British Bill of Rights. His evidence left us unsure why a British Bill of Rights was really necessary’. They are hardly alone in their criticism but then these are proposals which are riddled with errors.
It is a strange concept of a British Bill of Rights that would likely be refused legislative consent by the Scottish Parliament, be opposed by the Welsh Assembly, would frustrate and complicate the Good Friday Agreement, and has troubled the Government of Ireland. The question has to be asked whether or not it is worth is at all?
Mr Gove has bemoaned a “human rights culture”. Try telling that the vulnerable and the needy who have relied on the Act.
Try telling that also to the family of Corporal Ann-Marie Element. After reporting two colleagues for rape she then described how she had been ostracised and bullied as a result. In 2011, she took her own life. Her family then used Article 2 of the Act to secure an inquest. That led to a series of recommendations which improved the military justice system. It also brought about the creation of a Service Complaints Ombudsman, with the power to investigate independently the substance of complaints.
Cases like that of Ann-Marie remind us why so many of us fought for the values of justice, tolerance and respect that the Act embodies.
Labour’s position is as crystal clear now as it was in our last general election manifesto, which said: ‘Thanks to the Human Rights Act, some of our most vulnerable citizens, including disabled people and victims of crime, have been given a powerful means of redress. The Conservatives want to leave the European Convention of Human Rights, and abolish the Human Rights Act’.
That is why we will both fight to defend the Act and stand up against any attempt to weaken or dilute human rights in this country or abroad. We call on the government to end this game of political brinkmanship now and reaffirm our commitment to remaining a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights come what may. Our human rights are simply too important to be treated this way. It is time for Ministers to listen to the growing criticism and to end this human rights farce.
Lord Charlie Falconer is Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary
Published 24th May 2016