This will damage the UK's reputation and undermine our most effective tool for promoting human rightsby Dominic Grieve / August 20, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
As a Conservative who believes that my party is mistaken in its current approach to human rights, I welcome the pause for consultation in developing policy on the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights that was announced in the Queen’s Speech in May.
It is now almost a year since the Conservative Party published proposals for changing Britain’s human rights laws, a project rather euphemistically entitled “Protecting Human Rights in the United Kingdom.” The paper that was produced proposed repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a Bill of Rights that would incorporate the text of the convention, because, it said, “the UK stands by the commitments made when we signed the convention.” But at the same time as it emphasised that the rights enshrined in the convention were “inalienable,” it also argued that they should be in some way a little alienated and reduced in the Bill of Rights. It identified as its targets restrictions on deportation under Article 8 (the right to a private and family life) and under Article 3 (protection from the risk of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment). It also said that the right of individuals to invoke human rights in court should be “limited to the most serious cases” and that parliament, not the courts, should define what these are.
Most importantly, the paper then argued that, having made all these changes, the UK should seek a special status within the Council of Europe. This would allow it to remain a signatory to the convention while enjoying the privilege of treating the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg as merely advisory. In the meantime, it left unresolved the question whether or not the UK would breach its international obligations by failing to implement those judgements. A sub-paragraph in the paper called for changes to the ministerial code which currently prohibits ministers from acting contrary to the UK’s international legal obligations, and this could be seen as an essential enabling step to breaking the convention.