There may not be an awful lot of law news around at the moment, with most lawyers abandoning their offices for a summer sojourn on the Costa del Sol, but one snippet that could have rather important consequences did slip out the other day. Our shiny new Justice Secretary Liz Truss has confirmed that the government will press ahead with plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights.
The Human Rights Act of course incorporates the European Convention of Human Rights (‘ECHR’) into UK law, so the British Bill of Rights will actually replace the ECHR for UK purposes, or at least I assume it will – the details of the government’s plans are a bit murky. What has been made clear, however, is that the Bill of Rights will include all of the rights contained in the ECHR. Now, some might say that such an exercise is a complete waste of time, creating a new set of rights that is the same as the old set, but who am I to question the wisdom of our political masters?
However, logic would suggest that the government does intend to tinker with the ECHR rights in some way and, indeed, they talk about ‘restoring common sense’, whatever that means. So, I thought I would have a quick look at the rights contained in the ECHR, to see which ones might be worthy of a tinker…
Article 2 – The right to life
Article 3 – Prohibition of torture
Again, seems quite reasonable.
Article 4 – Prohibition of slavery and forced labour
Sounds like a good idea.
Article 5 – Right to liberty and security
Can’t argue with that.
Article 6 – The right to a fair trial
Article 7 – No punishment without law
No problem with that.
Article 8 – The right to respect for private and family life
Article 9 – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Article 10 – Freedom of expression
OK with that.
Article 11 – Freedom of assembly and association
Again, why not?
Article 12 – Right to marry
Article 13 – Right to an effective remedy
Can’t complain about that.
Article 14 – Prohibition of discrimination
Nope, can’t see anything wrong with any of those. Tell you what, why don’t we just forget this whole idea of a British Bill of Rights, and stick with the ECHR?
OK, all of the above is (a little) tongue in cheek. However, my basic point is surely sound: if we’ve already got something that’s good, why mess around with it?
It seems that the government, driven on by anti-European hysteria in certain parts of the media, is simply having a hissy fit over a few European Court of Human Rights decisions that didn’t go its way. But just how many decisions go against the UK? Well, between 1959 (when the Court was founded) and 2014 there were 22,781 applications against the UK. From those, there were just 301 judgments finding at least one violation. That amounts to just five violations per million people. For comparison, Slovenia has had 148 violations per million people (thanks to the excellent RightsInfo for the figures). In short, the UK is one of the most ECHR compliant countries (one popular newspaper that shall not be named once claimed that the UK loses 60 per cent of cases – in fact it is only just over 1 per cent). There is simply no reason to get upset about the actions of the Court. Even if you take the view that some of the Court’s decisions were wrong, to respond by leaving the ECHR would amount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Replacing the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights is a needless exercise. Worse, the government’s tinkering could mean that we could all end up with fewer, or more restricted, rights than we have now. That is certainly not progress.