Monday 2 November 2009

Grieve to delay Human Rights Act repeal

The Conservatives may not complete the repeal of the Human Rights Act and the introduction of a new British Bill of Rights in their first term in office if they were elected to government. And it is also becoming increasingly difficult to work out what substantive difference the policy would be intended to make.

"I would like to think we could do it in the course of a parliament", shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve tells Joshua Rosenberg in an interview for his Standpoint magazine column.

Perhaps the more important part of the policy is that Britain will not pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights - so British citizens will keep the right to appeal to Strasbourg. (Tory Eurosceptics like to grumble about this, but in doing so they are usually appealing to the public's inability to tell the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Union apart).

More broadly, he makes it perfectly clear that Britain will not pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights. We will not be able to send people to countries where they will be tortured, he promises. Whatever else happens, individuals alleging breaches of their human rights will still be able to take the British government to the European Court in Strasbourg

And so the new "British Bill of Rights" will seek to protect the convention's rights British law, to prevent British citizens having to go to Strasbourg to protect those rights. Rather as the Human Rights Act has sought to do, it seems to me.

He outlines several options [for the new British rights bill]. One would be a completely new text. Another would be to use the existing convention while "glossing" it with new interpretation clauses. "But we have to end up with something that is compatible, in broad terms, with the European Convention."

It seems very difficult, too, for the Conservatives to identify anything in the current HRA (as opposed to in the mythology of the HRA) which they would want to scrap.

What once looked like it might be a rather dangerous and regressive policy increasingly looks like a pointless one.

James Forsyth of the Spectator is unimpressed by the foot-dragging over the timing.

But Rosenberg concludes that Grieve may also face pressure over the content of his policy from those on the Tory right, and in the media, who wanted calls to "scrap the Human Rights Act" to be more than rhetorical.

The real problem Grieve faces is rebalancing his long-standing commitment to human rights against the instincts of his political supporters.


Anonymous said...

It was always a commitment for the first term ... and Dominic Grieve has always said that withdrawal from the ECHR was not on the table ...

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. There has been a debate within the Conservative frontbench on this (as Tim Montgomerie notes in this post), though I agree that Grieve has argued for staying in, against others. I hope he continues to hold that position.

I think Rosenberg is right that the statement about timing does reveal something: the language also raises the possibility that the hope to do it in a first term might now slip.

The charge of pointlessness depends on explaining "what is permitted under the HRA which would be ruled out under a new British BoR?" .... I don't get the impression that there is yet any clarity on that. The answer 'nothing significant' would, in my view, be a good one, but it may well be thought politically necessary to find at least one symbolic example of *something* by the time this is happening.

Anonymous said...

Have a look at the Society of Conservative Lawyers website and read the papers there on the ECHR and HRA ... they've been available since they were written in 2006 and these are the sorts of documents that the policy on the HRA is based on.