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Cameron faces opposition to his human rights proposals

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Ministers are understood to be drafting a controversial new law which would explicitly encourage the UK’s judiciary to disregard judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

The present Government has repeatedly attacked what it sees as interference by the ECtHR, where it sees decisions being made to protect rights established by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and which rights were strengthened for UK citizens by the Labour Government through the Human Rights Act in 1998.

In fact the Human Rights Act put power in the hands of the UK’s judiciary so human rights could be taken into account without people having to apply to the ECtHR in Strasburg – a move referred to at the time as ‘Bringing human rights back home’.

Since the act came into force in 2000 public bodies have had to bear in mind the rights of people affected by their decisions and everyone in the UK has been able to argue their rights in the British courts. Indeed, this has to be done before an application can be made to the ECtHR.

So, contrary to the government’s case and much of the media, human rights are already in the hands of the UK courts. As a result, the number of applications to the ECtHR from the UK has been very much reduced. It also means that determination of people’s rights is dealt with far quicker and in every court and tribunal in the land.

Mr Cameron said this week that he believed that he had already asserted the sovereignty of Parliament with the Referendum Act 2010, but would consider further legislation.

The plans continue to draw widespread criticism from those who believe that ditching the Human Rights Act and adopting an increasingly belligerent attitude towards what it likes to refer to as ‘Strasbourg’, as if this is somewhere utterly remote, will only serve to diminish the UK’s international standing and is part of a concerted effort to reduce people’s fundamental rights.

Civil liberties campaigner Shami Chakrabarti, who last week confirmed she was planning to stand down as the head of Liberty, has identified the Government’s plans as one of the main dangers to human rights in the UK.

And David Davis, the Conservative MP who once battled it out with Mr Cameron for leadership of the party, has also voiced his fears: “If we seek to disapply the jurisdiction of the ECHR, what is to stop less trustworthy regimes from doing likewise?

“The proposed British Bill of Rights would do nothing to improve the liberty or security of British citizens; indeed it may do much to weaken them. At the same time it would do much to weaken the protections of many people across the world who are far more reliant on such protections.”

Lester Morrill’s public law team has experience of conducting a range of cases concerning the application of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. For more details about our services, please contact us today.