In his first public statement on the Conservative party’s position on the European Convention of Human Rights, the new attorney general yesterday insisted that his party is not advocating the loss of any rights.
However Jeremy Wright QC, who replaced Dominic Grieve QC in the summer reshuffle, indicated that a Conservative government would be prepared to pull the UK out of the European Convention on Human Rights if reforms to the European Court of Human Rights cannot be agreed.
Answering questions after a prepared speech to the London Law Expo yesterday, Wright said that the powers and scope of the Strasbourg court have to be renegotiated – and that the UK is not the only country with that objective.
Wright likened adherence to the ECHR to membership of a club. ‘If you don’t like the rules you leave the club or you go to the AGM and ask for a rule change,’ he said. ‘If you don’t get a rule change you have to consider what to do next. We want to change what we find objectionable.
‘We want to go back to the Council of Europe and make a settlement and rein in the court in some way – if that is not flexible our options are limited to continuing as we are or leaving the system altogether.’
The party has faced considerable criticism from the legal profession about the potential effects of the UK leaving the convention – not least from Grieve, who described the Conservative party's plans as ‘unworkable’ proposals that will ‘damage the UK’s international reputation’.
Wright said the conduct of some signatories to the ECHR showed it was ‘no guarantee’ that they respected human rights. But he did accept that the UK would have to persuade international observers of the nation’s commitment to the rule of law if it opts to repeal the Human Rights Act.
‘Whatever proposals we make and alternative we offer we have to reassure people this is not about turning our backs on the maintenance of human rights,’ he added. ‘I would be concerned if I thought what this country was going to do would be to turn its back on human rights. I have heard no such proposal.’
Earlier this month the Conservatives set out plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, promising a draft bill by Christmas.
Under the plan to ‘restore common sense and put Britain first’ the Supreme Court would be the ‘ultimate arbiter’ on whether human rights are being respected, the party said. The European Court of Human Rights would be regarded as an ‘advisory body’.