Students Staff

03 October 2014

Essex lawyer slams Tory plans for human rights bill as “irresponsible"

International human rights law expert Professor Sir Nigel Rodley has said Chris Grayling’s plans for a new British Bill of Rights are an “irresponsible threat” that could put the UK in “dubious international company”.

Professor Sir Nigel Rodley

Professor Sir Nigel Rodley is Chair of the UN Human Rights Committee

Sir Nigel, Chair of the University of Essex Human Rights Centre, was speaking in response to the Justice Secretary’s announcement that if they win the 2015 election with a majority the Conservatives will scrap the 1998 Human Rights Act

Sir Nigel said: “There’s a lot of bluster in the Justice Secretary’s words, but they’re short on content, beyond the chilling possibility that, if the UK doesn’t get its way, it would be prepared to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. This irresponsible threat would undermine the whole post-World War II project of tying democratic and human-rights-respecting countries of our Continent into a Council of Europe. It is hard to resist the conclusion that there seems to be a Europhobic sub-text, playing on or playing to anti-EU sentiment.

“There’s also the traditional judge bashing, in the name of parliamentary sovereignty. How could you have an international human rights regime if every country’s parliament could decide for itself what is or should be the content of agreed human rights?

Sir Nigel, who is also Chair of the UN Human Rights Committee added: “Under the existing Human Rights Act, the European Court of Human Rights cannot change UK law. If the law is incompatible with our Convention obligations, then it is up to Parliament to change it. Of course, it does our reputation no good when Parliament fails to do that, as with the prisoner voting case (Hirst): do we really think we are inculcating good citizenship awareness by denying the vote to all prisoners, regardless of their crime or their sentence or how long before they return to free society?

“Up till now, the talk has been of adopting a UK Bill of Human Rights that would be at least as protective of human rights as the European Convention. Now the Justice Secretary is promising a Bill of Human Rights and Responsibilities. In this they will doubtless find themselves in dubious international company: it’s the kind of project with which the Cubans, Belarusians and Syrians and Zimbabweans love trying to sabotage the UN’s human rights work.

“It is to be hoped that any manifesto commitment will leave enough wriggle room for the eventual policy to be no more than bluster.”


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