The Tories’ latest pledge on the Human Rights Act is notable precisely for its attempt not to beby Hannah Copeland / December 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
If Stefan Enchelmaier, Professor of European Law at the University of Oxford, “almost missed” the mention of the Human Rights Act (HRA) in the latest Conservative manifesto, most people will have. That is probably the point.
Buried on page 48, the 2019 manifesto contains a single mention of the party’s pledge to “update” the 1998 HRA, which brings the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law. It doesn’t specify what an update looks like, or when it will happen (beyond “after Brexit,” which isn’t much of a clue). The text is not bold; nor italic. The language is euphemistic and vague, indicating that the update will “ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.” This is not a pledge intended to draw attention.
The attempt at innocuousness marks a change. David Cameron’s 2015 manifesto, which also promised the infamous “in-out referendum,” committed—five times over; three in bold—to “scrap” the HRA and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This pledge came despite the failure of the 2010 coalition’s especially set-up Bill of Rights Commission to agree on its content, and by the end of 2015, there was still no British Bill of Rights. In December 2016, it was announced that HRA repeal was delayed until after Brexit; and the 2017 Tory manifesto pledged to remain signed up to the ECHR “for the duration of this parliament.”
During this time, prominent Conservatives politicised the HRA as “Labour’s.” This is odd given it passed with overwhelming cross-party support in 1998. What is more, the ECHR itself was shaped by Winston Churchill and Conservative lawyer David Maxwell-Fyfe. In the recent past, the Conservatives also wove the legal sovereignty issue into the Brexit debate, never mind the fact that leaving the EU does not entail leaving the ECHR. Their statements were often inflammatory, like Cameron’s feeling “physically sick” at the thought of prisoners’ right to vote, or simply false, like the “pet cat” Theresa May said prevented deportation (in reality, Judge Gleeson had found that the deportee was in a stable relationship, and was therefore allowed to stay under the HRA, and that the couple also kept a cat).
“There has really been a populist misrepresentation of what the law is,” said Helen Mountfield, barrister, legal scholar and principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, suggesting…