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

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

  • Good. We don’t need a separate Bill of Rights. Why should we have more/less than everyone else. Certainly not that pseudo-60s leftie babble that was produced my the HRC et al. Last time I heard that sort of durge was meeting KGB fronts at East/West meetings in the 80s and not even they were prepared to defend those in the end. More than the guns need to move on in this society: a few attitudes and out-moded ideas need banished too: their day will not come, its been and gone and passed them by.

  • David Crookes

    Three cheers, thedissenter (#1). Let’s start teaching our children to get wet, to get cold, to get dirty, and to get hurt, instead of polluting themselves with computers and mobile phones, yelping like shampooed poodles when someone stands on their toes, taking offence at every trivial slight, and making their morally spasticated parents support them when they do something wrong. Life is tough. Of course we don’t want a separate bill of rights. Death to the Wimp Culture.

    I had that Sir Mota Singh in the back of the cab once. Showed him my SS dagger, but he didn’t like it at all. These liberal johnnies are so inconsistent.

  • GFASupporterButRealist

    Well, here’s a proposal for a “right”. The right of those opposed to a separate Bill of Rights for NI to have a massive grant of hundreds of thousands of pounds from the foreign-based Atlantic Philanthropies, led by ex Committee for the Administration of Justice head, Martin O’Brien, to finance those of us who oppose Monica McWilliams’s campaign for a B of R. Now that would be fair play and in the real human rights and, er, RESPONSIBILITIES tradition. Yes, it would be nice to have all that dough from Chuck Feeney’s moneybags to fund the campaign against a B of R. Methinks the chances of Mr. O’B and Mr. Feeney giving us that “right” are slim, though ? Ah, yes, “balance”, fairness etc — the double standard. The NIHRC shd have the political integrity to fund its campaign out of its OWN budget and not practise politics-by-other-means by paying for parti pris polling, inserts in newspapers and much else by getting lots of nice US dollars which others won’t have access to. How about that for a human “right” ? Oh and I was an Amnesty supporter for years — but Amnesty only supports prisoners who DON’T use violence to achieve their political objectives…..Also not a Unionist voter either. Many of us who oppose the politically correct NIHRC majority are not the “conservatives” the NIHRC lobby try to paint us. Remember that Monica’s predecessor, Prof. Brice Dickson, has officially and publicly come out against a separate Bill of Rights for NI. Bit of gunk for the NIHRC lobby, that one. Yes, indeed. Time for the lobby to admit they lost and for Ms. McWilliams and her mates to do the right thing — resign.

  • joeCanuck

    We do need a Bill of Rights to counteract the slow erosion of rights over the past two decades. Some of these were gained at great expense to life and liberty.
    But I agree that we need but one Bill for the whole of the UK. It would be beyond ridiculous that we could take a short drive or flight from one part of the Kingdom to another and have essential rights change.

  • Cynic2

    What slow erosion of rights joe? There has been layer upon layer of them added.

  • Cynic2

    If we didnt have a separate HRA in NI where would all those nice middle class kids studying law at Queens find work in law firms and quangos so they can ‘protect’ us…. at public expense of course

  • joeCanuck

    Perhaps I am confusing N.America with the UK, Cynic. Government over here has extended detention (over there too) and snooping rights and many others etc. I think the massive numbers of CCTV cameras is an invasion of privacy worthy of 1984.

  • From one of the NI Human Rights Oligarchs in the Guardian article:

    “Not only would creating a ‘British’ bill of rights be unacceptable to people in Northern Ireland, it would undermine an international peace agreement.

    Having extra human rights provisions would undermine an international peace agreement?

    “If people don’t identify themselves as British, a UK bill of rights is not going to be helpful. In fact it could seriously destabilise.

    If people don’t identify themselves as British in England, Scotland and Wales a “British” Bill of Rights will still protect (in so far as any legislation can) their human rights. Apart from the fact that local Oligarchs will lose a bite influence and dough why would Northern Ireland be any different?

  • I can see no point or purpose to a ‘bill of rights’ whilst there are unresolved allegations of child abuse and rape against members of activist groups or political parties.

    What on earth are we talking about? We cant/wont protect our children but god forbid some cop treads on our toes.


  • st etienne

    got the message yet Walker?

  • Cynic2

    The problem with Monika et al is that they also despise the Government and see themselves and the judges as a new super class who can interpret ‘international law’ (whatever that is) as overriding UK law and therefore democracy in the UK. This is all done, dontcha understand, in the pursuit of higher ideals that perhaps we poor serfs dont really understand.

  • Unless we deal with child abuse and the rape of young girls, we cannot with a straight face demand any kind of ‘human rights’. Physician heal thyself!

  • Davros


  • Bob Wilson

    The devolved assemblies have their power devolved to them from the Parliament of the UK. NI is part of the UK. Westminster is sovereign and can legislate over all matters including devolved ones should it wish to.

  • Framer

    Fiona Murphy of the CAJ (NIHRC’s formal allies) said in the Guardian, “Not only would creating a ‘British’ bill of rights be unacceptable to people in Northern Ireland, it would undermine an international peace agreement.

    “If people don’t identify themselves as British, a UK bill of rights is not going to be helpful. In fact it could seriously destabilise. There is a huge backlash against a bill of rights in Scotland. Multiply that by 100, and you are getting close to what the difficulties in Northern Ireland are going to be.”

    So now we know what the NIHRC/CAJ axis, funded heavily by Atlantic Philanthropies want – legislation by Westminster that is neither British nor UK – unlike the Human Rights Act!

    And a big backlash.

    Bring it on.

  • LabourNIman

    a conservative party bill of human rights will simply make us accept Rupert Murdoch really can buy a nation.

  • legaleagle

    As an NUFC supporter, I’ve been blogging to respect the prospects of Toon Army eventually triumphing (well, at least automatic promotion).

    The difference with this sterile debate is that all naysmiths of a bedrock of basic human rights for all the people of NI have emerged from under their rocks to rubbish the idea of a Bill of Rights for NI.

    Legally speaking, the GFA is ambiguous. At one point, it refers to ‘the Bill of Rights’ and at another, ‘any’ Bill of Rights. But it is clear that the NI Act, once again, a ‘constitutional act’, entrenches the HRA in NI law.

    As usual, the Tories are ‘springing in the breeze’ over their unsustainable proposals, in this case, to repeal the HRA. We all know that Grieve now realises that this is a joke.

    Did anyone hear the Lord Trimble on radio Ulster, ‘swinging in the breeze’ over elected police chiefs, applied to NI?

    NI is a society still emerging out of conflict. The NIHRC (despite pathetic attacks on the Chief Commissioner) has sensibly balanced the ‘particular circumstances’ of our post-conflict society and the minimum requirements of international law.

    Excuse me, but what is the’ ?’ on international law in one post in the face of extensive UN and Council of Europe standards?

    I suspect that NUFC will be promoted to its rightful place in the Premiership long before we get an NI Bill of Rights. But it is a requirement of the GFA that we should have one – and one day the Westminster Parliament will appreciate this commitment to all the people of NI.

  • legaleagle

    BTW these pathetic attacks on Atlantic Philanthropies are totally counter-productive. I’m not a fan of ‘envy politics’ so favoured by conservatives and neo-cons but please!

    Atlantic enriches and enlivens political discourse in NI. ‘Some C&V groups are funded by Atlantic. Get used to it.’

  • st etienne

    Don’t be done out of your rights

    In a nutshell, the NIHRC encapsulates the worst of attitudes in NI. Playing to the dependency culture, demanding what is not needed, raising expectation beyond reasonableness.

    No thanks.

  • granni trixie

    “enriches and enlivens pol discourse” –

    legalegal – prey tell me how …any examples? – I genuinely want to know as it does not seem obvious to me.