Monica McWilliams has used the election campaign to launch a thinly veiled attack on both the Conservative and Labour parties over their plans to replace the Human Rights Act with different versions of a British Bill of Rights. Both parties wish to cotinue to rely more on British than continental precedents and uphold the common law tradition, but differ over how to achieve it. The Labour Bill (see “defining British values”) adds a few nebulous “responsibilities” to the HRA in an attempt to set out “British values”. The Conservatives will be the bigger target for her criticism, as they have rejected the very idea of a separate NI Bill of Rights, while Labour have argued for a more limited Bill than her commission has proposed. For a British Bill incorporating NI clauses, the Conservatives argue against the straightforward application of Strasbourg case law in British courts, and in favour of curbing judicial discretion at parliament’s expense. Friction had arisen between the courts and the government over deportation and other cases connected with international terrorism, which both parties put down to HRA interpretations. Defending the Human Right Act, Ms McWilliams says:
The suggestion that, post-general election, an overhaul of the act is desirable defies logic, and the idea that we should throw in a vague and ill-defined discourse on responsibilities for good measure is puzzling. Add to this the notion that reopening a debate will somehow help us in defining British values, and what we are left with are more bitter and divisive clashes.
Monica’s fear is that a repeal of existing human rights protection should not be “the starting point for discussing a new Bill.” Her concerns remain to be explored in detail but it’s unlikely that under either party, human rights protection would be reduced.
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