The Conservative Party has included a pledge to “update” the Human Rights Act (HRA) in its manifesto ahead of the 12 December general election.
The party’s manifesto published on Sunday (24 November) contains a commitment to “update the [HRA] and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government”.
It also includes a commitment to ensure that judicial review “is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays,” while being available to protect individuals from an “overbearing state”.
Introduced in 1998, the HRA enshrined the Convention of Human Rights in domestic law. This means we are now able to go to courts in the UK to enforce our rights, rather than the human rights court in Strasbourg.
If elected, the party said it would convene a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission” in its first year in government to recommend proposals on how to update the HRA among other aspects of the country’s constitution and institutions. The document suggests that these proposals will not be looked at until “after Brexit”.
The pledge comes weeks after the party also promised to amend the HRA to prevent British soldiers facing legal claims of historic rights issues before the law came into effect in 2000.
The proposal to update the Act marks a change from the party’s 2015 manifesto pledge to scrap the Act altogether and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. It has been met with a mixed reception from lawyers.
The @Conservatives promise: “We will ensure that judicial review is available to protect the rights of the individuals against an overbearing state, while ensuring that it is not abused to conduct politics by another means or to create needless delays.” Yes but what does it mean?
— Joshua Rozenberg (@JoshuaRozenberg) November 24, 2019
Responding to the policy announcement, BBC Legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg simply said: “Yes but what does it mean?”
Tom Clark, editor of Prospect magazine, described the pledge as “vague” and “euphemistic” .
Two thoughts on the constitutional stuff
1) love the idea of reviewing the workings of the royal prerogative. lady Hale retires in January: am sure she could help
2) Human Rights Act stuff so vague/euphemistic it gives them little cover to drive any plan thru Lords pic.twitter.com/9heYtLvWZF
— Tom Clark (@prospect_clark) November 24, 2019
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, chairman of EachOther, expressed fear and distrust towards the proposals but also described it as a “medium grass policy,” unlikely to have any effect in the immediate future.
He said it is important that the commission set-up to review the HRA is “broad based” with representation from across political parties.
Interesting that Johnson is not even pledging to repeal the Human Rights Act, never mind withdraw from the ECHR. His Commission sounds like a long grass vehicle. I bet the HRA outlasts him, as it’s now outlasted three Prime Ministers who planned to change it.
— Carl Gardner (@carlgardner) November 24, 2019
Former government lawyer Carl Gardner highlighted that the HRA has now “outlasted three prime ministers who planned to change,” anticipating that the law would also outlast PM Johnson’s time in government, if elected.
The Conservative Party manifesto – titled “Get Brexit Done, Unleash Britain’s Potential” – contains four references to “human rights” in total.
This compares to 23 mentions of human rights in both the Labour Party’s manifesto and Liberal Democrat manifesto.
Labour, the Lib Dems, the Green Party, Plaid Cymru have all pledged to retain and protect the HRA in their manifestos. The Brexit Party’s manifesto contains no references to the Act.
Image Credit: The Guardian / YouTube.
Adam Wagner is the chairman and founder of EachOther. He played no role in writing this article.