A Conservative British Bill of Rights could clash with the Assembly

As I’ve argued before, Conservative plans for a new British Bill of Rights greatly complicate the arguments over a separate NI Bill, whatever some dismissive unionists may think. There is a difference between how they see it and what the context actually is. The problems are ventilated in a report by the respected think tank Justice and reported in the Guardian. The Conservative Bill could in effect be vetoed by the devolved legislative bodies, with NI being a specially awkward case because of the GFA.

The proposals to change the Human Rights Act could become a “legal and political nightmare,” experts have said, with England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland all left with different levels of human rights protection…. It’s opening a whole can of worms reassessing what the United Kingdom is.”

The Justice report admits the problems may not be insurmountable and the shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve plays them down. But they’ll remain until jurists agree that the Conservatives’ UK Bill does not reduce the application of the European Convention on Human Rights after the repeal of the present definitive Human Rights Act. Either way, the Assembly will have to take a view, already divided as it is between unionists whose opinions range form cool to strongly against, to nationalists who are keen on a separate NI Bill.

Extract from the Justice Report

A strong argument can be made that ‘human rights’ have been devolved to the
Scottish Parliament and the Northern Irish Assembly, or at least that the ‘observation
and implementation’ of the ECHR, has been devolved. If this is the case, although
from a legal perspective the Westminster Parliament could still legislate in this area,
constitutionally, the consent of the devolved bodies would be needed. As such,
because any amendment to, or repeal of, the HRA and/or legislation enacting a bill of
rights covering the devolved jurisdictions would touch upon ‘human rights’ or the
‘observation and implementation’ of the ECHR, from a constitutional perspective, the
consent of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Irish Assembly would be
needed.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London