Rights, wot rights?
Probably to maintain unity during the Conservative party conference, it was only afterwards that the party published their plans for human rights reform in a document entitled ‘Protecting Human Rights in the UK’. The title is seriously misleading: its contents are about weakening human rights protection.
During the party conference the Prime Minister announced that the UK would remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), ending months of speculation. Sense prevailed. But the true plan is not to respect the ECHR and to regard its court - the European Court of Human Rights - as having only an advisory role to the UK parliament. The Conservative view is that the UK should not be subject to international law and its obligations to protect human rights. It is intended to amend the Ministerial Code to say that ministers are no longer bound by international law. It will be difficult to remain a signatory to an international treaty - ECHR - yet regard its judgements as advisory, for guidance only. The Justice Secretary said that “Parliament would decide when human rights laws should be used and when not”. That is frankly an arrogant and anarchic statement.
Constitutional anarchy may well be the result. The devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales may well legislate to protect human rights in their jurisdictions, respecting judgements made by the European Court of Human Rights. The European Commission and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would probably bring infringement proceedings against the UK for violating EU values enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The ECJ recently started infringement proceedings against the Czech Republic for continuing to discriminate against Roma school children, despite a European Court of Human Rights judgement against that country in 2007. An issue close to my heart, having played a part in the submission of D.H. and others v. the Czech Republic.
There is surely still a need for an international law - ECHR - covering the wide geographical area of Europe, including Russia and Ukraine, that sets a minimum standard of human rights protection for all people in the countries its covers (only Belarus isn’t a signatory), and a need for a body - European Court of Human Rights - to ensure that these minimum standards are a reality with the possibility for individuals to bring cases to it that have exhausted the legal process in their own country.
To use a phrase taken from the excellent UK Human Rights Blog, perhaps the title of the Conservative party document should have been ‘Less human rights for the English’.
The losers, should this policy become reality, would be vulnerable communities, families and individuals. UKREN and its members will be working to uphold human rights protection of ethnic minorities and religious/faith groups in the UK. Watch this space.