Today in the House of Lords leading human rights lawyers faced questions on the proposed repeal of the Human Rights Act (“HRA”). The EU Justice Sub-Committee of the House of Lords is investigating the consequences of the Government's proposal to repeal the HRA and replace it with a "British Bill of Rights", in order to inform both the political and public debate.
The debate on the repeal of the HRA has been one which has been slowly bubbling beneath the political surface since the election of the majority Conservative Government in May. Despite bold statements in the Conservative Party manifesto that a draft bill would be produced within 100 days, the matter has not been progressed, with only a passing comment made in the Queen’s Speech in May and no reference made to it by the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, in his recent speech at the Conservative party conference.
Questions raised by the House of Lords in their inquiry go to the heart of core issues, such as whether a British Bill of Rights would have to be subject to the supremacy of EU law, and if it would put the UK in direct conflict with EU law. Another area of questioning concerned the impact a UK repeal of the HRA might have on the UK's renegotiation of its membership of the EU, or its relations with other Member States.
As I explained in my earlier blog on this topic ('Michael Gove is given 100 days to abolish the Human Rights Act') the legal issues in this area are quite complex. Since May, the situation has become none the clearer. We simply have to watch this space and wait to see if Mr Gove addresses the numerous concerns before the Government launches a public consultation on the proposals which is rumoured to commence in November or December 2015. Following a 12 week public consultation, it has been reported that the proposed bill is set to be fast-tracked into legislation by the summer of 2016 which is an ambitious time scale given the complicated and contentious subject matter.
The Conservative Party have repeatedly stated that their aim is to make the UK Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK. However, in light of the lack of clarity over the detail of their plans, it is difficult to predict what effect the proposals will have on human rights in Britain and the four separate legal systems. What is clear, however, is that any change could have profound consequences for human rights in the UK and our relationship with the rest of Europe.