Peers have found that proposals for a UK Bill of Rights were not significantly from the current Human Rights Act but that even modest changes seriously risked harming international relations and the make-up of the UK. The EU Justice Sub-Committee, formed of House of Lords peers from across the benches, yesterday published its detailed report on the proposals.
The Conservative Party was elected on a manifesto promise to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. The Committee, chaired by Labour peer Baroness Helena Kennedy, concluded that the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly would be unlikely to consent to a Bill of Rights which repealed the Human Rights Act. They warned the UK Government of proceeding into ‘uncharted constitutional territory’.
Although the European Convention on Human Rights is a legally distinct document and its court in not a part of the EU, the peers warn that the UK’s relationship would be ‘severely strain[ed]’ if it sought to apply a different set of human rights standards.
In contrast to the more extensive changes proposed in the Conservative manifesto, the evidence given by Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Justice, about the current plans were more modest, leaving the Committee unconvinced that legislative change was necessary.
Those in favour of repealing the Human Rights Act often point to the fact that ‘human rights’ existed in the UK before the 1998 Act, in the form of common law protections. The Committee found that the common law would be ‘unlikely to fill the gaps in human rights protection’.
The publication of the report comes shortly after the Home Secretary Theresa May advocated withdrawal from the Convention altogether. May is in favour of staying in the EU, unlike Michael Gove, who is a long-standing and vocal opponent of the UK’s membership.