Monday, May 09, 2016

Government should think again on British Bill of Rights

The House of Lords EU Justice Committee has today published its report on the Government’s proposal to introduce a UK Bill of Rights.

The Committee says the evidence they received makes ‘a forceful case’ for the Government to think again on the policy.

The report says that the Government’s proposals:

  • Will not depart significantly from the existing Human Rights Act.
  • Are likely to “affirm” in a Bill of Rights all the rights contained within European Convention on Human Rights [as Stated by the Secretary of State], making the necessity of a Bill of Rights unclear.
  • May damage the UK’s standing within the Council of Europe and the EU, and its moral authority internationally.
  • May, lead to an increasing reliance on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK courts if the scope of the Human Rights Act is reduced.
  • Risk constitutional upheaval with the devolved nations, with the consequence that the proposed UK Bill of Rights could end up as an English Bill of Rights.

Commenting Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, Chairman of the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee, said:

“Our evidence from the Secretary of State for Justice was the first time the Government has explained why it wants to introduce a British Bill of Rights. The arguments seemed to amount to restoring national faith in human rights and to give human rights a greater UK identity. The proposals he outlined where not extensive, and we were not convinced that a Bill of Rights was necessary.

“Many witnesses thought that restricting the scope of the Human Rights Act would lead to an increase in reliance on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK courts, which has stronger enforcement mechanisms. This seemed to be a perverse consequence of a Bill of Rights intended to give human rights greater UK identity

“We heard evidence that the devolved administrations have serious concerns about the plans to repeal the Human Rights Act. If the devolved Parliaments withheld their consent to a British Bill of Rights it might very well end up as an English Bill of Rights, not something we think the Government would want to see.

“The more evidence we heard on this issue the more convinced we became that the Government should think again about its proposals for a British Bill of Rights. The time is now right for it to do so.”

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