Comment

The human rights lobby is overreacting

A new balance is needed between traditional British rights and the judicial activism of the Strasbourg court

🤮🤯🙁 A Bill of Rights has great historical resonance. The 1688 version, while limiting the freedoms of Roman Catholics and women, was nonetheless a foundation stone of British liberties along with habeas corpus, trial by jury and limits on the executive power of the state.

Modified and expanded, these liberties have existed in this country much longer than much of continental Europe. After the Second World War, they were the basis for the European Convention on Human Rights which was intended to ensure the horrors of the mid-20th century were never again inflicted on people because of their race or religion or other minority status.

The final interpretation of the convention was assumed by the European Court of Human Rights before the Human Rights Act (HRA) made them once again justiciable by British courts, albeit with an appeal to Strasbourg still available. As has been seen recently with the Rwandan asylum removals, a domestic judicial decision can be overruled.

It is against this background that Dominic Raab, the Lord Chancellor, published his British Bill of Rights essentially to supplant the Human Rights Act and reduce the influence of a supra-national court that has arrogated to itself far more power than was ever envisaged. It has moved beyond interpreting the convention into creating laws of its own in contravention of the principle that such responsibilities lie with elected parliaments.

This is why the responses to Mr Raab’s Bill from the human rights lobby are preposterous. Amnesty International said the proposed new statute would “fatally weaken human rights” while other campaigners fatuously condemned the “ripping up” of liberties. Yet we are not withdrawing from the convention and, in any case, we possessed the rights it contains long before it came into effect in 1953. We do not need to submit to the edicts of the Strasbourg court in order to defend them.

Indeed, the new Bill will strengthen rights in some areas, including specific protections for free speech and trial by jury. Courts will no longer be required to place costly obligations on public authorities actively to protect individual human rights. There is a good deal of British pragmatism and what Mr Raab called “a healthy dose of common sense” here that might rescue what is a noble cause from the human rights industry.

A new balance is needed between traditional British rights and the judicial activism of the Strasbourg court. This Bill should help provide it.