Election 2017: What now for human rights?

The Human Rights Act may not be scrapped following the Conservative Party’s failure to win an overall majority, lawyers are claiming.

Doughty Street Chambers’ Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC saidthat a minority government for the Conservatives is likely to mean that their long-standing indications that they intend to “scrap” the Human Rights Act 1998 “cannot be acted upon”.

“David Cameron stated his plan to repeal the Act over a decade ago, in 2006, and it appeared in both the 2010 and 2015 Conservative Party manifestos,” she said.

“This time, despite Theresa May’s widely reported personal opposition to the European Convention on Human Rights, many were surprised that the 2017 manifesto promised not to repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway – apparently giving it a stay of execution.

“However in the past week, in the hours before the public went to the polls, Theresa May revived the language of “scrapping” the Human Rights Act. The result means that the parliamentary arithmetic is now firmly against her on this. Conservatives who have long voiced opposition to these proposals now have the power to stop her in her tracks.”

Human rights organisation Liberty took out a full-page open letter to Theresa May in The Times, saying that it is “the watchdog of the rights and freedoms of everyone in the UK” and that it would be watching her every move.

Meanwhile, Rosie Slowe, a barrister who has co-authored a book on EU human rights law, said that the election result was a vindication that governments should not seek to act above the law.

She told The Lawyer: “The UK went to the ballot box and did not deliver the landslide victory predicted for Theresa May, who was convinced that she sat above the constitutional principles of parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law, and was thereby able to amend our universal human rights to pursue her political agenda.

“In accordance with our unwritten constitution, only Parliament, and not the Government, has the authority to take away citizens’ rights which it has granted. May no longer has a parliamentary majority through which to pursue this. Nor should she. Our fundamental entitlements against the state ought not to be defined by the government of the day, but rather remain enshrined in the Human Rights Act which gives citizens access to supranational oversight.”