The government’s long-heralded plan to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights may be put on hold, rewritten or even scrapped.
The Times report today that Theresa May has asked Liz Truss, the new Justice Secretary, to revisit the plans after the UK voted to exit the European Union. The proposal may even be junked altogether.
A Whitehall source told The Times that “it was all ready to go”. But now that Michael Gove, who did most of the work on the current plans, has been sacked, the idea may be “junked” whilst the Ministry of Justice concentrates on prison reform.
Theresa May has long been a strong sceptic of human rights laws, particularly during her six-year tenure as Home Secretary. In April 2016, she became the most senior government minister to call for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.
However, as we reported at the end of June, she performed a partial u-turn by saying that if elected leader she would not attempt to pull the UK out of the European Convention because it would divide people and has no parliamentary majority. She notably did not abandon plans altogether. We suggested at the time that this statement may have been part of a deal to bring on board the ‘Runnymede Tories’ such as Dominic Grieve QC, who pledged his support on the same day.
The Conservative plan to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights was first mooted by David Cameron over ten years ago and was a firm manifesto commitment coming into 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.
Sources told The Times that the government may also want to avoid another fight with the Scottish government, which is opposed to the plan. As we have explained in a recent post, the devolved legislatures may be able to block human rights reform.
For those fighting to retain the Human Rights Act it may yet be too early to celebrate. The Times report that May “is understood to have been unhappy with some of the proposals, in particular a concession that Britain would remain signed up to the European Court of Human Rights”. Her Chief of Staff, Nick Timothy, has strongly argued for full ECHR withdrawal. So that may well be the long game.
The reality is that, post-Brexit, the government probably has far bigger concerns than replacing the Human Rights Act. Could this 10-year saga finally be reaching its conclusion?