Lords slam government’s plan for British Bill of Rights

The House of Lords EU Justice Committee has said that the Government should rethink its plans to introduce a British Bill of Rights.

The proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) in favour of a new Bill of Rights was in the Conservative Party’s 2015 election manifesto. However, the Lords said they were unconvinced by Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s rationale for the change. In a report published today, they warned that such a move would risk “unravelling the constitutional knitting for very little”.

Chair of the committee Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws said: “Our evidence from the Secretary of State for Justice was the first time the Government has explained why it wants to introduce a British Bill of Rights. The arguments seemed to amount to restoring national faith in human rights and to give human rights a greater UK identity. The proposals he outlined where not extensive, and we were not convinced that a Bill of Rights was necessary.”

She added: “Many witnesses thought that restricting the scope of the Human Rights Act would lead to an increase in reliance on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK courts, which has stronger enforcement mechanisms. This seemed to be a perverse consequence of a Bill of Rights intended to give human rights greater UK identity.

Kennedy also warned of the risk of constitutional upheaval if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland did not want to sign up. She said: “We heard evidence that the devolved administrations have serious concerns about the plans to repeal the Human Rights Act. If the devolved Parliaments withheld their consent to a British Bill of Rights it might very well end up as an English Bill of Rights, not something we think the Government would want to see.”

The wider reputation of Britain in the world was also a cause for concern, she said: “Many of our witnesses were deeply concerned about the effect of departing from the rights provided for in the Convention on the UK’s international standing, particularly among EU Member States, and on the UK’s ability to participate effectively in EU policies on fighting international crime.”

“The more evidence we heard on this issue the more convinced we became that the Government should think again about its proposals for a British Bill of Rights. The time is now right for it to do so.”

A 2015 survey by ComRes for Amnesty International found that just 3 per cent of British adults said scrapping the HRA should be the most important priority for the government, and only 11 per cent ranked repealing the Act within their top three priority issues for the government.