The Conservatives have recently announced plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, and could leave the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) in an attempt to give Parliament and British courts more powers over our human rights. This move would ostensibly also stop British laws from being overruled by judgements from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg.
To do this, they are prepared to exercise their right to withdraw from the Convention which is the centrepiece for the Council of Europe (CoE), Europe’s 47-member watchdog for human rights and democracy.
The Council of Europe have said that, being a founding member, it would be “inconceivable” for the UK to leave. However, critics have said that this is exactly what would be required, should the UK government actually want to limit the impact of Strasbourg’s judgments. The Conservatives seem to believe that they have the power and ability to alter their relationship with the ECHR and the CoE without it having any repercussions on their membership of either. This, frankly, is hubris on their part.
In an attempt at justifying this decision, the Conservatives’ Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said that he thinks “the people of this country believe that…decisions on these things – such as whether prisoners should be sent to jail for the rest of their lives without the chance of release and whether prisoners should be given the vote…should be addressed in our courts and in our Parliament.” This idea is entirely demonstrative of the media-influenced public opinion of human rights: that it only helps prisoners and terrorists and offers little to no protection for the rights of regular individuals.
The Conservatives seem to believe that they have the power and ability to alter their relationship with the ECHR and the CoE without it having any repercussions on their membership of either.
In actual fact, if the UK were to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights, individuals would lose the ability to challenge decisions of the national courts at the level of the ECtHR. The Law Society – a body that represents lawyers in the UK – agrees, and has stated that scrapping the Human Rights Act would “weaken the protection” of human rights in the UK for all citizens, law-abiding or not.
This would, however, be a convenient problem-solver for the government, as they would no longer have to abide by the ECtHR ruling that the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners having the vote is unlawful. This particular point has been an ongoing conflict with Strasbourg since the decision of Hirst in 2005, which is yet to reach a satisfactory conclusion.
Despite all of this, the BBC’s political correspondent, Iain Watson has said that the Conservatives could only implement these plans if they win by an outright majority in the General Election next May, something which is by no means guaranteed. Moreover, even if the Conservatives are elected into power, will they really scrap the Human Rights Act? This is something which has been a part of their campaign promises for almost a decade, so why would they decide now to act?
Image courtesy of UK Immigration Barristers