As the Conservative government seeks to scrap the Human Rights Act, how can we better understand the current debate?

The last Labour government introduced the Human Rights Act (HRA) in 1998 as an instrument to guarantee human rights in the UK. Essentially, this law protects the fundamental rights of all individuals and allows them to challenge authorities if they violate these rights.1 Conversely, the Conservative government under David Cameron is committed to scrap the HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. 

What is the Human Rights Act 1988?2

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Credit: The Independent

The HRA has two essential components.

First, the HRA incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic British law. The ECHR, which was drawn up in the aftermath of World War II, protects the inalienable rights of all individuals. This implies that if individuals believe a decision or act by public authority violates their basic human rights, they can secure justice through the British court system instead of going through the European Courts of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Secondly, the HRA requires all bodies of government to abide by these human rights. This encompasses all public authorities, including the central government, local council, schools, courts, and the police. Individuals thus have the rights to challenge these authorities.

What is the Proposed British Bill of Rights?3

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Credit: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

The British Bill of Rights is intended to incorporate the fundamental underpinnings of the Magna Carta, including “[limited] executive power, guaranteed access to justice, the belief that there should be something called the rule of law, that there shouldn’t be imprisonment without trial.”4

However, as Gove continues to shape this manifesto, the true outline and nature of this proposed British Bill of Rights remains unclear.

Understanding the Debate

Overwhelmingly, people are in favor of keeping the HRA in the UK and are staunchly against bringing in a new British Bill of Rights. 5 In a simplified argument for the HRA, advocates claim that it is the surest way to protect individuals from abuse by the state. Although the HRA protects everyone in discrete ways, it is also the essential instrument that protects society’s most vulnerable.

Significantly, domestic courts are required to take the judgments of the European Courts of Human Rights into account.6 The HRA ensures the UK respects human rights and the rule of law, as expressed in the ECHR. Without the HRA, the British Supreme Court would have the final say in human rights matters in the UK.

However, critics of the HRA claim it strips the UK of its sovereignty.7 As David Cameron stated, the Magna Carta should be the key document in drafting a British Bill of Rights.8 Since the ascension of the HRA, he claims that the principles of human rights in the UK have been devalued and distorted. Consequently, we must return to the basic principles of the Magna Carta instead of the ECHR to draft human rights policies for future generations.

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Credit: CCUA

What Now?

What is the future of human rights policy in the UK? Should we repeal the HRA, or should we fight to keep it at the expense of the proposed British Bill of Rights? We are interested in knowing people’s thoughts about this campaign, and we encourage you to join the debate!

Megan Erickson, Staff Writer

1https://www.amnesty.org.uk/sites/default/files/human_rights_act_qa_new.pdf

2http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/what-is-the-human-rights-act-and-why-does-michael-gove-want-to-scrap-it-10240527.html

3http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/jun/15/david-cameron-british-bill-of-rights-safeguard-legacy-magna-carta

4Ibid.

5http://www.amnesty.org.uk/eight-reasons-why-human-rights-act-has-made-uk-better-place-british-bill-of-rights#.Vlmft2ThAUs

6http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/oct/21/government-human-rights-act-legal-europe-uk

7Ibid.

8http://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/jun/15/david-cameron-british-bill-of-rights-safeguard-legacy-magna-carta

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