Isabel Hardman

Human rights reform: will the Tories end up with the same bill but under a new name?

Human rights reform: will the Tories end up with the same bill but under a new name?
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Number 10 has not given an official denial that David Cameron has ruled out pulling out of the European Convention on human rights, with the Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman today saying that the manifesto was ‘absolutely’ the best guide to the Prime Minister’s position on human rights reform. This is what the manifesto says on human rights:

We will reform human rights law and our legal system

We have stopped prisoners from having the vote, and have deported suspected terrorists such as Abu Qatada, despite all the problems created by Labour’s human rights laws. The next Conservative Government will scrap the Human Rights Act, and introduce a British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK. We will continue the £375 million modernisation of our courts system, reducing delay and frustration for the public. And we will continue to review our legal aid systems, so they can continue to provide access to justice in an efficient way.

There is some excitement about Joshua Rozenberg’s piece in the Law Society Gazette, which effectively suggests that the government will end up renaming the Human Rights Act and only making small tweaks, which he describes as 'tinkering':

‘A British Bill of Rights cannot remove the government’s obligation under the human rights convention to ‘abide by’ adverse rulings in UK cases. But it can make an impact on the UK judges themselves. What really concerns the government, I’m told, is its belief that the Human Rights Act has given an impetus to judicial activism in the UK. The message of the British Bill of Rights will be that such activism undermines the supremacy of parliament and is corrosive to the rule of law.

‘For the judges, then, Gove’s bill will be a shot across the bows. Better than Grayling’s bill, though, which was a shot in the foot.’

This is not surprising for those who have been talking to Tory would-be rebels concerned about the reforms, who have suggested that the only way it could pass the House of Commons if it is essentially the same rose by another name, perhaps with the lightest of pruning.