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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Dennis-Harburg

Dominic Raab is all wrong on the Bill of Rights

Dominic Raab introduced the Bill of Rights to Parliament on 22 June. The intention of the Bill is to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.

The new Bill proposes to maintain the Convention rights, but will radically change how individuals can enforce their rights. The most noticeable change is the so-called “rebalancing” of the relationship between UK courts, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and Parliament.

As a side note, the ECHR is not an institution of the European Union. It was set up in 1959 as an international court to rule on individual or state applications alleging violations of the rights shrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. Its judgements are binding on the countries concerned, resulting in governments changing legislation and administrative practice. The rights enshrined in the Convention, and protected by the ECHR, are:

· The right to life

· The right to a fair hearing

· The right to respect for private and family life

· Freedom of expression

· Freedom of thought, conscience and religion

· The protection of property

The convention also specifically prohibits:

· Torture and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment

· Slavery and forced labour

· The death penalty

· Arbitrary and unlawful detention

· Discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention

The Bill proposes:

(a) that it is the Supreme Court (and not the European Court of Human Rights) that determines the meaning and effect of Convention rights for the purposes of domestic law;

(b) that courts are no longer required to read and give effect to legislation, so far as possible, in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights;

(c) that courts must give the greatest possible weight to the principle that, in a Parliamentary democracy, decisions about the balance between different policy aims, different Convention rights and Convention rights of different persons are properly made by Parliament.

It is affirmed that judgments, decisions and interim measures of the European Court of Human Rights are not part of domestic law, and do not affect the right of Parliament to legislate.

President of the Law Society, Stephanie Boyce, has raised concerns about the proposed legislation.

She said:

The erosion of accountability trumpeted by the justice secretary signals a deepening of the government’s disregard for the checks and balances that underpin the rule of law.

The bill will create an acceptable class of human rights abuses in the United Kingdom – by introducing a bar on claims deemed not to cause ‘significant disadvantage’.

It is a lurch backwards for British justice. Authorities may begin to consider some rights violations as acceptable, because these could no longer be challenged under the Bill of Rights despite being against the law.

Overall, the bill would grant the state greater unfettered power over the people, power which would then belong to all future governments, whatever their ideologies.

The disregard for the rule of law the government is repeatedly signalling both at home and abroad – also inherent in this bill – risks inflicting serious harm on Britain’s reputation with trade partners, business and in the international arena.”

The Bill effectively creates a patchwork of rights and removes certainty from individuals that their indisputable human rights are protected. It enables politicians and judges to pick and choose when a person has rights, and when they do not, centralising power and removing autonomy from ordinary people. It is autocratic, and undemocratic.

We’ve seen in the last week how damaging it is for courts to embroil themselves in politics. The overturning of Roe v. Wade in America is not just about abortion, or even women’s rights over their own bodies. It is a fundamental attack on the rights of individuals to self-determination enshrined in the 14th Amendment.

Raab’s Bill is born of the same vein. The law is there to protect all citizens from political excesses and ideologies. The courts provide an essential check and balance on the legislature. And the ECHR is there to protect citizens from governments and others who would do them harm and infringe their rights. Let us not forget that the European Convention on Human Rights was proposed by Winston Churchill, drafted by British lawyers, and modelled on the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We ratified it in 1951.

Rather than seeking to tear up the system for no reason other than political ideology, this government should be seeking to strengthen the rights of British citizens. This Bill does the opposite – it introduces uncertainty and opens up ordinary people to political caprice.

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