Christabel McCooey looks at why replacing the European Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights would be a bad idea.
How naïve yet strangely right, people are for thinking that getting rid of the Human Rights Act will give the UK government greater freedom: yes, greater freedom to trammel over peoples' lives without consequence.
'Well, why not just have a tailor-made UK Bill of Rights?'
Because the whole point of the Human Rights Act is to ensure that there is always an objective, external way to review how a government treats individual people. With a UK Bill, the highest place to go to challenge the actions of the government would be the UK Supreme Court. But this court is already extremely deferential to the UK government, despite the impression the Daily Mail might give you. It all too often lets the government get on with what it wants and avoids causing a fuss. One of the only few counterbalances to that is human rights.
Also, Britain itself was instrumental in creating and pushing for the European Convention on Human Rights after Hitler was defeated because, it, like the rest of Europe, saw first-hand how seemingly civilized people could massacre their own neighbours. It realized that you need 'universal values' ie basic minimum standards for living as a dignified human being, 'human rights', but also that you needed a separate, independent power to keep every country accountable to these values which they signed up to. Otherwise, if it were just left to the countries to monitor themselves they'd say, 'of course we're human rights compliant, mind your own business', and get on with the policies they wanted, avoiding the inconvenience of respecting peoples' voices.
The UK is trying to say, 'we helped develop human rights, of course we don’t need help from Europe' but is basically ignoring the founding principle it realised 60 years ago, which is that even a 'progressive' government will readily begin to encroach on peoples' freedoms when it suits their interests if there are not strong external barriers to them doing so, ie. the ECHR and Human Rights Act.
'Christabel is training to be a barrister specialising in human rights and international criminal law. She has spent time assisting capital defence lawyers in New Orleans and working with campaigners to end the death penalty in Louisiana. She also writes for the Justice Gap.