Lawyer's view: Human rights ‘at risk’ if UK bill passed

Houses of Parliament in Westminster; Tim Ireland/PA Wire

Houses of Parliament in Westminster; Tim Ireland/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The government is currently discussing replacing the 1998 Human Rights Act, which protects us from slavery, torture and other fundamentals, with a new-look "Bill of Rights", potentially leaving people in the arbitrary hands of our state’s justice system.

Those old enough to remember dancing to Kool & the Gang may also remember the blood contamination scandal that took place in the 1970s and 1980s which killed 3,000 in Britain alone. Victims are still fighting for justice 40 years later. Former health secretary Normal Fowler told a recent inquiry into the scandal that the quest for compensation could be “doomed to failure” if the Act is no longer in force.

Since 1959, the Strasbourg-based European Human Rights Court has delivered more than 10,000 judgements regarding alleged violations of human rights.

Such a court ensures member states of the Council of Europe respect the rights and guarantees set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Judgements are binding and the countries concerned must comply with the court’s ruling. 

Pauline Campbell has been through a lot in her career.

Pauline Campbell, Hackney lawyer - Credit: Pauline Campbell

This vital Act is now under threat, with the government proposing overhauling Britain’s human rights, by replacing it with the “Bill of Rights”. More than 44,000 have now signed a petition to the government against Reform of the Human Rights Act - with 100,000 signatures needed for it to reach Parliament. 

The Government has responded to the petition by saying it will ensure the proposals under the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to be recognised and that individuals “will still be able to enforce their rights in domestic courts”.

Most Read

The statement added: “(…) We are seeking to empower our courts to apply human rights in a UK context by reinforcing the primacy of UK case law. We also want to ensure that the will of our elected representatives in Parliament is respected.”

But what will happen if our human rights are moved away from the independent watchful eye of the European Court?

How safe are our rights in the hands of elected representatives who for decades have failed to correct historical wrongs?

If this Bill is successful, if the doors of Strasbourg are closed to them, and no compensation is agreed and domestic law fails, where will be their recourse for justice?

The Ministry has said, “We will remain a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which in turn means that its jurisdiction will not change”. 

But while the UK remains a party to the European Convention, the Bill of Rights is diluting the power of Strasbourg internally. The foreword of the consultation of the Bill reads: "We look at the relationship between the UK courts and Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

The question remains: How strong will our ties to the European Convention be if Strasbourg’s role is internally diminished? 

Pauline Campbell is a Hackney-born lawyer and author. Juliette Fever is a French journalist and filmmaker based in London