Stormont role over human rights disputed

Do Stormont, Holyrood and Cardiff Bay have a say in a UK Bill of Rights? Read the politics and the answer must be yes. Read the law and you get tangled between strict constructionists like Austen Morgan a Derry born, London based lawyer and sometime Trimble adviser and the recent Justice report, claiming that the GFA requires formal approval for a UK Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Morgan repeats Pete’s point that the Agreement did not “ provide” for a local Bill. His verdict on the NI Human Rights Commission is typically scathing.

The 1998 Belfast Agreement did not, as claimed, provide for a local bill of rights. The human rights commission there, however, is promoting an all-singing, all-dancing instrument: it wants to replace representative democracy with rule by judges (and quangos); and it is using foreign funds to campaign against its sponsoring department.

But this case is too narrow. In practice local administrations have to be squared. Any Westminster government would work hard to achieve widespread consent. The last thing they want is to stir up local and nationalist feeeling in this crucial area. Take a starker example. Legislatively, strictly speaking only Westminster can grant Scotland independence. But can you imagine them denying it if Scots voted in favour in a clear-cut referendum? (although critics will rip apart the SNP’s opinion poll version of a referendum Bill out yesterday). In the real world law and politics are not the same but have to be reconciled.

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

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