House of Lords slams British Bill of Rights proposals

Helena Kennedy

In a damning report published today, the House of Lords EU Justice Committee has questioned the need for the UK government’s proposed “British Bill of Rights”, given its similarity to the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights, and warned that it may damage the UK’s international standing and cause “constitutional upheaval”.

The committee said the evidence it received makes “a forceful case” for the government to think again on the policy.

The report states that the government’s proposals:

  • Will not depart significantly from the existing Human Rights Act.
  • Are likely to “affirm” in a Bill of Rights all the rights contained within European Convention on Human Rights , making the necessity of a Bill of Rights unclear.
  • May damage the UK’s standing within the Council of Europe and the EU, and its moral authority internationally.
  • May, lead to an increasing reliance on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK courts if the scope of the Human Rights Act is reduced.
  • Risk constitutional upheaval with the devolved nations, with the consequence that the proposed UK Bill of Rights could end up as an English Bill of Rights.
  • Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, chairman of the House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee, said: “Our evidence from the Secretary of State for Justice was the first time the government has explained why it wants to introduce a British Bill of Rights.

    “The arguments seemed to amount to restoring national faith in human rights and to give human rights a greater UK identity. The proposals he outlined where not extensive, and we were not convinced that a Bill of Rights was necessary.

    “Many witnesses thought that restricting the scope of the Human Rights Act would lead to an increase in reliance on the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK courts, which has stronger enforcement mechanisms. This seemed to be a perverse consequence of a Bill of Rights intended to give human rights greater UK identity.

    “We heard evidence that the devolved administrations have serious concerns about the plans to repeal the Human Rights Act. If the devolved Parliaments withheld their consent to a British Bill of Rights it might very well end up as an English Bill of Rights, not something we think the government would want to see.

    “The more evidence we heard on this issue the more convinced we became that the government should think again about its proposals for a British Bill of Rights. The time is now right for it to do so.”

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