The Law Society of Northern Ireland’s Human Rights and Equality Group (HREG) has said that it “firmly rejects” the British government’s Bill of Rights Bill.
The new bill would end the requirement of British courts to follow human-rights rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, making the UK Supreme Court the top judicial decision-making body.
It would replace the Human Rights Act, which was brought in in 1998 to enable people to rely on rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Under the new bill, Britain would remain a member of the convention and the Strasbourg court, which is outside of the EU court structures.
Impact on Northern Ireland
The Law Society of Northern Ireland committee had already stated its belief that the proposed changes would have the effect of weakening or reducing rights, and had urged the British government to rethink its proposals.
“Unfortunately, having now reviewed the resulting draft legislation in detail, it is clear the government has ignored those concerns,” the HREG said.
The group said that, while it had many concerns over the draft legislation, its main worry was the impact on the rule of law in Northern Ireland.
“This legislation diminishes human rights, and weakens the ability for citizens to hold the state accountable for breaching human rights,” the group stated.
New PM ‘an opportunity’
It added that it shared the view of former President of the Supreme Court Baroness Hale, who suggested in a recent lecture in Belfast that the bill was “a watering down” of human-rights protections in Northern Ireland, and “the reverse” of what was envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement.
The HREG said that it would monitor the passage of the bill, adding that a new British prime minister and cabinet presented “an opportunity to reflect” on the widespread concerns about the draft legislation.
“In the meantime, we will continue to raise our concerns about this retrograde step for human rights protections in NI and across the UK,” the HREG concluded.