British justice secretary and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has unveiled legislation to replace that country’s Human Rights Act, brought in in 1998 to enable citizens to rely on rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The new legislation would end the requirement of British courts to follow human-rights rulings from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, making the UK Supreme Court the top judicial decision-making body.
The new bill of rights clarifies that Britain will remain a member of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Strasbourg court, which is outside of the EU court structures.
However, divergence from Strasbourg rulings will be allowed.
Raab will introduce the measures in a new bill of rights to be placed before the House of Commons today (22 June).
The bill contains measures that the government says will strengthen free speech, and will streamline deportation of foreign criminals by restricting their right to appeal using human-rights arguments.
Raab said this morning that the legislation would see “common sense” restored to the legal system.
“Overall, what our Bill of Rights will do is strengthen the quintessentially British tradition of freedom, particularly freedom of speech, but it will curb abuses of the system and inject a bit more common sense,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“For example, the elastic interpretation of the right to family life that has seen foreign national offenders trump deportation orders,” he added.
Both the legal profession and human-rights groups have expressed concerns, calling it a “power grab” by the State.
The bill of rights will override injunctions issued by the Strasbourg court, such as that made last week to block the government’s first flight of asylum-seekers to Rwanda.
A High Court challenge on the legality of the government’s Rwanda policy will be heard next month.
PM Boris Johnson said that the UK might pull out of the human-rights convention, which underpins a number of treaties such as the Good Friday Agreement.
Campaign group Liberty called for the bill of rights to be subjected to “robust consideration” amid fears it will put the government beyond the reach of the law.
I Stephanie Boyce, President of the Law Society of England and Wales, added: “Overall, the bill would grant the state greater unfettered power over the people, power which would then belong to all future governments, whatever their ideologies.
“The erosion of accountability trumpeted by the justice secretary signals a deepening of the government’s disregard for the checks and balances that underpin the rule of law.
“The bill will create an acceptable class of human rights abuses in the United Kingdom – by introducing [under a new permission stage] a bar on claims deemed not to cause ‘significant disadvantage’.
“It is a lurch backwards for British justice. Authorities may begin to consider some rights violations as acceptable, because these could no longer be challenged under the bill of rights despite being against the law,” she said.