Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald has confirmed that the government’s plans to scrap the Human Rights Act will be put on hold until the complex issues around leaving the European Union have been resolved.
During Justice Questions, held in the House of Commons yesterday, Ministers were questioned over the Conservatives’ controversial plans to overhaul human rights laws in the UK by replacing the Human Rights Act with a new “British Bill of Rights.” Sir Oliver said in response:
We are committed to reforming our domestic human rights framework and we will return to our proposals once we know the arrangements for our exit from the European Union.” He also added that he thinks it is “important for us to sort out… the exit from the EU before we return to that subject.
So, what is the Human Rights Act?
The Human Rights Act (HRA) is a law which has been in force in this country since 2 October 2000. It gives effect to the rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in UK law, protecting all of us from having our rights taken away by the state.
These rights include the right to life, to liberty, to free speech, to private and family life and others. So, if you’re disabled, in hospital, accused of a crime, seeking refuge, homeless, gay, straight, religious, secular, snooped on, in the Army, a neglected child or a victim of trafficking, then you will have rights under this law to be treated properly and with dignity.
And what are the government’s plans?
The Conservative plan to replace the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights was first announced by David Cameron over ten years ago. It was also a firm manifesto commitment in both the 2010 and 2015 general elections. Since the 2015 Election, it has repeatedly been reported that the Bill of Rights was about to be announced.
What exactly a new Bill of Rights would look like is still unknown. The Conservatives said in October 2014, in their more detailed human rights proposal, that the bill would include the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights but also “restore common sense”.
So, what now?
In August 2016, it was reported that Theresa May had asked Liz Truss, the Justice Secretary, to revisit the plans after the UK’s exit from the European Union. It seemed at the time that the government was putting its plans to replace the HRA on hold until arrangements for Brexit were finalised. Justice Minister Sir Heald’s announcement yesterday appears to confirm this. This may even mean that plans to replace the Act are not revisited until after this Parliament ends in 2020 – although on that, see this.