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Human Rights Act not safe post-Brexit, Lords committee warns

18 January 2019

The continued operation of the Human Rights Act 1998 post-Brexit has been left in doubt by a ministerial letter, according to the House of Lords EU Justice Subcommittee.

In response to a concern raised by the committee, the Government has failed to give assurances that it will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act, despite its proclaimed commitment to "shared values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms".

The committee wrote to Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice David Gauke in December regarding the wording of the proposed Political Declaration setting out the future relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom. The summary draft, which was published first, included a "reaffirmation of the United Kingdom's commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights", and "continued adherence to the ECHR and its system of enforcement". However the final document appeared to dilute these commitments, as it merely agreed "to respect the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights", and to commit to "continued adherence and giving effect to the ECHR".

On querying the change in wording, the committee received what it describes as "a troubling response". Replying on behalf of the Secretary of State, Edward Argar MP, Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Justice, assured the committee that the UK had no plans to withdraw from the Convention, and the Political Declaration made it clear that "a central tenet of our future relationship with the EU is our mutual belief in the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms".

The letter however continued: "our manifesto committed to not repealing or replacing the Human Rights Act while the process of EU exit is underway. It is right that we wait until the process of leaving the EU concludes before considering the matter further in the full knowledge of the new constitutional landscape". 

Committee chair Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws commented: "We have repeatedly asked the Government for assurances regarding citizens’ rights post-Brexit, deal or no deal. Again and again we are told that the Government is committed to the European Convention on Human Rights, but without a concrete commitment, and with messaging that is changing and becoming diluted.

"Is the Government sincere in its commitment to the ECHR? If so, why has it failed to give assurances that it will not repeal or reform the Human Rights Act, which in essence incorporates the rights set out in the ECHR into domestic British law?"

 

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