New British Bill of Rights would alter the Good Friday Agreement

The new Conservative government appears to be moving fast to  enact a new  British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act of 1998 which is one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreement. Tory dislike of the HRA has nothing to do with the Agreement. Indeed as so often happens, Northern Ireland doesn’t figure in their thoughts.  The Conservatives are targeting decisions of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which in their view makes it too difficult to  carry out pressing wishes of the government, such as expelling Islamist undesirables from the UK, or foisting actions  of them which they  utterly oppose, like giving prisoners the right to vote. It also plays to  right wing Conservative loathing of  too much interference from Europe generally.  The situation isn’t helped by the ambiguity  which requires national jurisdictions  to “ take account of”  judgments of the Strasbourg court. Some top judges regard these rulings as binding, others, influential  but not binding.

The Times (£) has the story.

Pressure is mounting on the government to reveal its plans for scrapping the Human Rights Act and publish the proposal for a new UK bill of rights. Michael Gove, the new justice secretary, will seek to enforce the policy after the Queen’s Speech. Some Westminster sources suggest that it could be implemented within a hundred days of the new government entering office.

Schona Jolly, a senior human rights barrister at Cloisters, said: “Pressure should be put on the government now to publish the draft so that a well-informed factual debate can begin in earnest. The guessing game needs to be ended immediately.

“Grayling put out a fairly detailed policy document last October, which Dominic Grieve, the Tories’ former attorney-general called  a “recipe for chaos”. Perhaps this is why the bill was not published before the election, as had been promised.” The Human Rights Act is tied into the Scottish devolution settlement, and indeed that of the Good Friday Agreement. It’s n

One of the biggest concerns is where this new bill will sit within the devolved union and Northern Ireland.

“The real fear is that the Conservatives have a hidden agenda – leading Britain, or perhaps just England – out of the European Convention on Human Rights altogether. There is the suggestion of a postcode lottery of human rights, the tiers depending on where in the Union you live, or whether you are a EU national or otherwise.”

“It will be legislatively, practically and politically impossible for Britain to disentangle herself from the web of international treaties, and domestic devolution settlements into which she is tied.

Conservative proposals presented by the then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling for the manifesto jars with  developments in human rights law and devolution.

 Our reforms will mean that:

 The European Court of Human Rights is no longer binding over the UK Supreme Court.

 The European Court of Human Rights is no longer able to order a change in UK law and becomes an advisory body only.

 There is a proper balance between rights and responsibilities in UK law.

Our proposals are grounded in two basic legal facts.

 There is no formal requirement for our Courts to treat the Strasbourg Court as creating legal precedent for the UK. Such a requirement was introduced in the Human Rights Act, and it is for Parliament to decide whether or not it should continue. Many European countries, including Germany, do not place such a requirement on their national courts.

 In all matters related to our international commitments, Parliament is sovereign

The Constitution Unit’s new report Devolution and the Union gives this verdict on Conservative ideas for a British Bill of Rights

Devolved legislatures have developed human rights and equalities regimes increasingly distinct from those applying in England. Changes introduced by the Wales Act 2014, for example, could lead to Wales passing legislation on the lines of the Scottish Commission for Human Rights Act 2006.

In addition, legislative consent motions by the devolved government to fresh ‘repatriating’ UKECHR legislation would by no means automatically be forthcoming. If a UK government wished nonetheless to go ahead, it might be able to do so in respect of England only. This would not only frustrate its intentions but also risk increasing sentiment in the rest of the UK in favour of further weakening or even leaving the union. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission originated in the Belfast Agreement, an international treaty. Opposition to any attempt to water down the Agreement’s guarantees could be expected to be particularly strong, and have repercussions on the stability of the 1998 peace settlement as well as implications for the UK’s relations with the Republic of Ireland.

My old friend Joshua Rozenberg has good advice for Michael Gove

So the new justice secretary should order his officials to start afresh. They should tell him what can be achieved by legislation, what can be achieved by diplomacy, and what can be achieved only by denouncing the European convention on human rights — with all the diplomatic consequences that would follow.

Then he should publish a green paper for consultation followed, in due course, by a white paper. If that attracts cross-party support, he can proceed to a draft bill and, ultimately, legislation in a couple of years from now. By then, however, he will come to realise that there is really no need for any significant reform at all.

But will Michael Gove listen?





, ,

  • Ernekid

    You’d think that Mr Alexander Cameron QC, would tell his brother to stop messing around with human rights law.

    As the Good Friday Agreement is an international treaty between the UK and Ireland wouldn’t the UK need permission from Dublin to alter it? Why are the Tories messing around with our Human Rights? Who benefits?

  • AhFeckit

    The ‘Establishment’, the exploitative elite, corporations, the rich, the police state’, modern slavery, a state not wanting to be held accountable for murderous collusion and invasion of privacy.

  • Korhomme

    The Independent had a useful article on the Human Rights Act yesterday:

    The legal blogger David Allen Green has recently posted about Michael Gove:

    in which one commentator posted a link to a post by Mr Gove in which he indicates his dislike of the Good Friday Agreement:

    Changing the HRA throughout the UK looks to be very difficult; here we have the ramifications of the GFA and the involvement of the government of the Republic of Ireland, who might not agree to the change. Changing things just for England might interfere with EU treaties, as well as indicating a ‘them and us’ split in the UK. Somehow, the whole idea doesn’t seem to have been properly thought out.

  • Kev Hughes

    I never really understood the Tory preoccupation with the HRA, it’s pretty innocuous stuff from a legal perspective and a continuum of established practices that preceded its creation.

    It appears more, 1. Dislike of anything coming from the continent and 2. A fig leaf for poor police investigative work, together with legal counsel for the government not building decent cases against government targets.

    It begs another point often overlooked about the UK government making political security decisions and then not liking decisions made by an independent judiciary that conflict with them. If they want to leave or abscond from the HRA then fine, but it’ll be mighty tough to do and will raise alarms of the UK not taking its internationally agreed obligations even remotely seriously.

  • Billy Smith

    The Irish Government has already moved beyond the Agreement by amalgamating its Human Rights and Equality authorities in 2014. Within the UK, human rights policy has not been devolved to the Assembly, and it is clearly within the competence of Westminster to legislate for Northern Ireland. The UK Government is not suggesting departing from the European Convention, merely reforming its own Human Rights Act. Any suggestion otherwise is scaremongering.

  • Sliothar

    Although AhFeckit might appear to be OTT his underlying point is surely correct as the elephant in the room is that Britain does not have a a written constitution and therefore, certainly in theory and possibly full-blown practice, can write and re-write any laws they wish – subject, of course, to parliamentary decision. And for proof, we only have to look at how the law was bent, broken and twisted to suit political expediency in our sainted little ‘Pravince’ in recent decades.

  • Martin Keegan

    How is the Human Rights Act a cornerstone of the earlier Good Friday Agreement?

  • chrisjones2

    I agree. The way the OTR letters and RPMs were treated was disgarceful

  • chrisjones2

    the grasping Human Rights Lawyers (TM) talking hopeless cases on legal aid and whipping up business to line their own pockets

  • chrisjones2

    Its mentioned in it. That automatically makes it a cornerstone except in matters involving murders by PIRA which are exempt from all action

  • chrisjones2

    Its an issue of sovereignty of the UK Supreme Court vs Strasbourg so not innocuous at all

  • Sliothar

    And there’s always the greatest Catch 22 in history – National Security.

  • Kev Hughes

    I’m sorry, from a legal perspective it is fairly innocuous Chris seeing as the differences of opinion are minimal to non-existent on matters of principle.

    This is all about politics and little to do with sovereignty. Not even Russia is contemplating this. But let’s be honest here, Gove will have his work cut out and there’ll be a fudge as per usual.

  • Kev Hughes

    Agreed Sliothar, parliament can of course still be and remains sovereign. It merely chooses to allow the HRA and decisions to take precedence.

  • james

    Very, very much so.

  • david crookes

    Chris, if we ever meet I owe you an enormous big fry for that comment.

  • chrisjones2

    CAJ are on winging as well

    Unfortunately I don’t seem to recall anyone electing them

  • chrisjones2

    The main issue is which judge makes the final call – a British one or a European one. I agree that they will probably concur especially as the ECHR has an advisory role but that is a sovereignty issue

    The interesting bit is on the issues or RESPONSIBILITIES as well as rights – something that ECHR is weak on and that might change part of the game. We shall see

  • chrisjones2

    that might breach my Article 2 rights

  • Kev Hughes

    Thanks Chris.

    Would you like to elaborate on where the ECHR is weak on responsibilities? Would be intrigued to hear your opinions or some kind of gap analysis.

    And, unfortunately, you haven’t said why a group of European judges is not as good as a group of British judges, but that’s not what’s really at issue. Nor is Sovereignty as the UK willingly joined and pooled its sovereignty on matters of human rights. It’s politics

  • J Hobson

    One of the problems Cameron now faces is that he has to carry out the manifesto promises to placate the ultras without the fig leaf of Nick Clegg to come up with an excuse as to why he can’t. Ditto the BBC and Europe. So here’s the first mess. However it’s going to be a really rough ride for the DUP. Will they be backing Cameron or will they seize an historic moment when they back the concept of Human Rights and oppose the Tories? I suspect we know the answer to that.

  • david crookes

    Don’t be worrying about anything whose consumption might involve a breach of the law. I shan’t be asking you to eat quiche paysanne. Sorry, that’s another thread.
    Think I’ll go and make myself a big feed right now.

  • chrisjones2

    Times change and the UK Government is mandated to hold an in – out referendum
    I don’t think there is any real difference between UK Judges and European ones on many issues save that UK ones may be more attuned to local circumstances in the UK. In terms of responsibilities give me a week and I will give you a detailed answer but in general ECHR is all about individual rights with little reference to our duty to try, for example, and reach accommodation with our fellow citizens.

  • Kev Hughes

    That’s hilarious; you ‘know’ it’s about something, yet you need a week to ‘prove’ a point!

    You’d imagine You’d have dozens of examples to hand to prove your point, yet can’t cite one; you’ve proved my point, it’s politics, not sovereignty.

    Honesty is required here, xenophobic honesty.

  • Sleepy

    One of the main things that makes the Human Rights Act not fit for purpose is that it has been abused by bad people. Said people can avoid being deported by hiding behind it. At the end of the day, the rights of every law abiding British Citizen should come first and foremost. If the HRA prevents the Government from deporting serious offenders, then it simply has to go.

  • Dan

    They should repeal the friggin Belfast agreement too.
    It’s been an utter failure.

  • 23×7

    You do know that the HRA is completely irrelevant to the EU don’t you? The EU referendum in the UK will have no impact.

  • 23×7

    We could simply lock them up rather than using one or two cases to destroy an important piece of legislation. Or maybe these cases are being used to hide the real reasons why the tories are keen to scrap it.

  • chrisjones2

    Tripe. I am just too busy to do it today.You don’t like that tough …go get a life

  • chrisjones2

    tell his brother to stop messing around with human rights law.

    Why? Thats one of the reasons why we elect Governments. To mess with laws

  • hugh mccloy

    Why should Human Rights Act not be reformed, consistently Humans Rights are being used by criminals who removed the human rights of others. The commission here is just another quango and rarely actually influences human rights reform.

    he is one example that our commission has not touched yet, despite a personal complaint from myself and I know from others:

    Every child has the right to family life – though the Childrens Order 1995 does not give children any social right to family life with their father post separation. Instead fathers who are stopped from seeing their kids have to apply to court or a legal agreement as there is no lawful protection. Where is your Right to Family Life

    This court is then held in secret and not like a regular hearing the evidence does not have to be tested but judgement is given on a balance of probability – Right To Fair Trail ?

    A father and mother do not have the same initial standing in terms of being a parent to their child – Right To be Treated Equally ?

    The right of a father and his child having social contact is being depressed all the time, the review of 2005 here was buried and only replaced with a half coked review in 2014 which still does not seek a change in legislation.

    These courts were created specially to allow the breach of human rights in domestic law, and this also applies to cases for children being abused or taken or kidnapped by the state into the care. DFP will not give civil law reform to DOJ so this can be resolved. Where is the fathers or child Right of Abuse of Rights ?

    The Childrens Order and family courts violate Articles 1, 6, 14, 17, as a population we have allowed this system to be created to bypass established Human Rights, we have turned our backs on protecting children, my time in F4J showed me how selfish people can be in relation to rights, one way or another if the Tories want to change from ECHR they will find a way.

    I suppose it is easy to talk about rights, from experience standing in a alleged court of law in this country with the above rights removed gave me a different perspective on what rights are.

    At the end of the day what are rights other than a list of privileges that can be removed or changed at any time, because rights are not rights if you can take them away.

  • hugh mccloy

    the Human Rights Act can be rewritten to suit, I would be sure that GFA was not dependent on rights staying defined as they were in 1998, its a minor thing for cameron, but in NI style it will be blew out of proportion in the media to keep our mind of the executive enforced cuts

  • 23×7

    Then why not campaign to get the HRA changed rather than pressing the nuclear button and scrapping it?

    The HRA was hardly mentioned during the recent election campaign. It’s clear that one or two rogue cases are being used to hide the real reason some in the tory party want it scrapped.

  • disqus_JmCoqa6yB8

    If the Human Rights elements of the GFA get entangled in Gove’s plans would this dilute the 1998 Agreement ?

  • Kev Hughes

    Bless you Chris, you’re just a scream now.

    Your poorly thought through convictions and ill temper shows something my colleagues and I discussed yesterday, the difference between being political and tribal, and not in the sense of the North, but in the true sense.

    You know what, when you actually think through something as opposed to coming here and bashing your keyboard as a giant reflex to what you see, let me know, otherwise I’ll file what you’ve wrote on this thread under spam and will make the point of not engaging you again. K? Lovely speaking with you, good luck…

  • MainlandUlsterman

    We conceded the primacy of EU Law (then EEC Law) in 1973 upon accession. This has been confirmed in multiple House of Lords cases since the mid 70s. The ECHR is a separate bit of law from the EU treaty-based stuff, sure, but it’s hardly out of keeping with our legal system to have to defer or even just refer to a European decision. I don’t see why the outrage over this when we accept everything else. European legal decisions of various kinds have been part of the bread and butter of English law for more than 40 years. The UK Supreme Court is not about to collapse because of it.

  • chrisjones2

    Now Saint Gerry has opined on this and its all bad.

    He appeals to the Irish – who changed their own arrangements without consulting the Brits – to intervene

    He rants and he rages about human rights while he and his party denied them to the victims of crime denied justice by secret OTR letters and RPMs. He ignoes the rights of children raped and abused by party members and IRA men. Abuse that was
    covered up

    Yes Oul Gerry is very hot on the abuse front

  • John Collins

    If National Governments tackled problems properly in their own jurisdictions these lawyers would have much slimmer pockets. The Louise O’Keffee case in the ROI was a classic example of this

  • chrisjones2

    Yes…immigration and the abuse of the HRA for utterly bogus claims