Lord chancellor’s party conference speech made no mention of a bill of rights – but watch this space.
A year ago the Conservative party looked certain to repeal and replace (as they called it) Labour’s Human Rights Act.
Swept along on a tide of public support and with lord chancellor Chris Grayling unfazed by any backlash from lawyers, the new bill of rights was simply a matter of time (and a matter of removing the Lib Dem element of the coalition).
Fast-forward 12 months and the Conservatives have everything set. Michael Gove, a man who probably learned to reform before he could walk, had replaced Grayling and the party had a mandate to legislate. The act, so reviled by the right-wing media and party delegates, was seemingly doomed.
So it was curious this morning that Michael Gove chose to ignore human rights entirely in his speech to conference in Manchester. This was no Ed Miliband deficit ‘brain freeze’.
All the indicators this week have been that the land has shifted in terms of prioritising the replacement of the HRA. A fringe meeting organised by Liberty on Sunday attracted many in the audience who expressly wanted to retain the act. Others simply saw reform as either pointless or too difficult.
I haven’t heard a single party member bring up the issue, even when they’ve discovered I write about the legal profession. It’s tempting to think that once Abu Qatada’s plane left these shores, he took with him much of the populist clamour for reform.
Is that it, then, for a measure that the Tory manifesto pledged would be moved forward within 100 days of the new government taking office?
I suspect not. A senior figure in the justice department told me that far from kicking this into the longest of grass, a consultation on a new bill of rights is still expected to be published before the end of this year. (Though we have, of course, heard such assurances before.)
Those assuming Michael Gove will give up on any reform because it is just too difficult surely underestimate the man. Gove was told it could take up to five years to open free schools in his previous role as education secretary. More than a dozen such schools had welcomed new pupils within a year.
Problematic it might be, but the Conservatives won’t give up easily. There will always be another issue to stir the Conservatives into falling out again with the HRA. The party will surely be ready with legislation when they do.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor