Any UK law that curbed rights under the European Convention on Human Rights would make challenges under the 2009 EU Charter more frequent, a committee of the House of Lords argues today.
'This, in turn, is likely to give rise to more references from UK courts to the [EU] Court of Justice seeking guidance on the scope of EU law and the provisions of the EU Charter,' the Justice Sub Committee of the Lords EU Committee says.
This is one in a string of reasons why the government think again about its promise to introduce a British bill of rights, the committee, chaired by Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Helena Kennedy QC, pictured), concludes.
Overall, the committee's report, The UK, the EU and a British Bill of Rights, argues that the government has failed to demonstrate why a new bill to replace the Human Rights Act is necessary. It notes that the proposals for a bill outlined in evidence by the justice secretary, Michael Gove, 'did not appear to depart significantly from the Human Rights Act—we note in particular that all the rights contained within the ECHR are likely to be affirmed in any British Bill of Rights'. Gove's evidence 'left us unsure why a British bill of rights was really necessary'.
Furthermore, a new legislative framework for rights would imperil the constitutional settlement within the UK as well as international relations, the committee says. The difficulties of implementing a bill of rights in the devolved nations are 'substantial', it warns: 'If for no other reason, the possible constitutional disruption involving the devolved administrations should weigh against proceeding with this reform.'
Meanwhile, any departure from the standards of human rights currently recognised within the EU would damage what the committee calls the system of mutual recognition which underpins EU justice and home affairs cooperation. 'We urge the government not to introduce domestic human rights legislation that would jeopardise the UK’s participation in this important area of EU cooperation in the fight against international crime.'
Apart from urging the government to back away from the proposed new bill, it calls on the government to explain its ground for asserting that the UK public sees human rights as a 'foreign intervention'. On the contrary, many witnesses, for example the Welsh Government, thought the Human Rights Act 'a uniquely British approach'.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: 'This government has a mandate to reform and modernise the UK human rights framework. Our bill will protect fundamental human rights, but prevent their abuse and restore some common sense to the system. We will fully consult on our proposals.'