While the government remains committed to fulfilling one of its manifesto pledges by repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights, I wonder if this development is quite as imminent as was recently implied.
Although this ‘reform’ can only be achieved by way of primary legislation, all that the Queen’s speech had to say on the matter was that ‘proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights’. In other words, therefore, a consultation process will proceed the publication of a bill. Furthermore, in an accompanying statement, the government fell back on what has become a mantra in the present context: that its proposals will be published ‘in due course’.
Such a gloriously vague indicator as to the intended rate of progress provides no comfort to those who have been pressing the government on this issue for some time. As attorney general Jeremy Wright QC recently observed in the House of Commons, there is some irony in the fact that those same people are also most likely to oppose whatever the government proposes. Regardless of the truth of this, however, and despite the fact that the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU are of course distinct, much seems likely to depend on the outcome of the 23 June referendum.
If the ‘Leave’ campaign wins the day, human rights reform is likely to move further down the agenda as more pressing matters take centre stage – such as the political future of the prime minister and perhaps even a general election.
Neil Parpworth, Leicester De Montfort Law School