Human Rights Act has ‘positive and beneficial’ effect
The Human Rights Act “has not seriously impeded” the government’s attempts to tackle crime, terrorism or immigration, or put the public at risk, Lord Falconer said today.
A review by the lord chancellor concludes that despite the “myths and misrepresentations” surrounding it, the legislation has generally had a “positive and beneficial impact” on the relationship between the citizen and the state.
However, given the strength of some of these myths, the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) announced today it would publish new guidance for public servants on how to implement the act, and if necessary would prepare further legislation.
This could see the Human Rights Act – which brings the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law – amended to make courts give special regard to public protection, or new laws introduced directing specific sectors to do so.
Campaign group Justice welcomed today’s review as a “sensible and clear-headed” analysis of the Human Rights Act, with director of human rights policy Eric Metcalfe saying it made a “refreshing change from ill-informed attacks” on the law.
However, shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve accused the government of “playing fast and loose” with the public over the difficulties the act posed, saying today’s review was a “complete climbdown” on Tony Blair’s previous comments.
“The truth is that the review acknowledges the existence of problems but that there is a lack of political will to deal with them. The preference instead is to spin lines about future intentions,” he said.
“This is why we have said that we believe that the introduction of a bill of rights providing a greater definition of rights and responsibilities under the ECHR would be valuable. If the government thinks this would be valuable they should get on with it.”
Lord Falconer’s review comes after increasing concern about the act, following an official report into the killing of Naomi Bryant, which found her killer, Anthony Price, had been released from jail by officers more concerned with his rights than the public’s safety.
The government has also clashed with the judiciary in its efforts to tackle terrorism – the law lords ruled that the detention of terror suspects without charge at Belmarsh prison under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 contravened the ECHR.
However, in today’s review, Lord Falconer reveals that the law lords cannot overrule primary legislation – such as the 2001 anti-terrorism act – and as such the government can pass anything they believe is in the interests of national security, regardless of whether it is in accordance with the ECHR.
The Conservatives’ suggestion to replace the act with a bill of rights that nobody could change would prevent them from doing this, the lord chancellor said. He also warned this bill would be confusing by providing a second set of rights alongside the ECHR.
“Human rights are an essential part of our country’s social and legal framework. Human rights are everyone’s rights. So the UK will stay in the European Convention of Human Rights and we will not repeal the Human Rights Act,” Lord Falconer said.