News In Focus
Conservatives threaten to withdraw from Human Rights Convention
The effect in UK law of the European Convention on Human Rights would be curtailed if the Conservatives win the next general election, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced this morning.
In addition to repealing the Human Rights Act 1998, which would leave the UK still subject to its obligations under the Convention, the party wants rulings of the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg to be treated as advisory only, with no power to award damages if the UK Parliament disagrees with a ruling. The underlying message is that if necessary the party would be perpared to withdraw from the Convention altogether.
A "strategy paper" published by the party today proposes that UK courts would no longer be required to take into account rulings from the Strasbourg court, making the UK Supreme Court the "ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK".
It also states that the law would "define much more clearly when and how human rights laws in the UK are to be applied. This will end the ability of the courts to decide unilaterally to apply human rights laws to whole new areas of public life" – and that the use of human rights laws would also be limited to the "most serious cases"; they would "no longer apply in trivial cases".
The Conservatives are particularly concerned to end the ability of foreign criminals or criminal suspects, as well as those illegally in this country, to use human rights laws to prevent their deportation. They also have a longrunning dispute with the Human Rights Court over the issue of votes for prisoners.
However the proposals in the paper have been described as "legally illiterate" by a campaign group, and questions are also being asked as to how "serious" and "trivial" human rights cases are to be defined.
in a BBC radio interview the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC pointed out that the paper contains errors, including the effect of at least one Strasbourg ruling. He added that while some of the court's findings had been "mistaken", others had been "benchmarks" in improving human rights in Europe.
The paper appears to take no account of the Scottish and Welsh devolution settlements, which provide that the devolved legislatures must comply with Convention rights, or the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement, which guarantees Convention rights for the people of the province.
Mr Grayling said: "We will always stand against real human rights abuses, and political persecution. But these plans will make sure that we put Britain first and restore common sense to human rights in this country."
The Conservatives' plans are opposed by both the Liberal Democrats and Labour.