Justice minister Simon Hughes has defended the 1998 Human Rights Act as ‘a measured piece of legislation when understood and used properly’ in his first parliamentary comments on the topic since taking up his government post in December.
Hughes was speaking in a House of Commons debate organised by Graham Allen Labour MP for Nottingham North with the intention of 'restarting this debate’.
Allen, an enthusiast for a written constitution, told parliament that ‘codifying our rights would help the British political system to be founded not on judicial archaeology by insiders but on a legitimate, open and transparent basis understandable to all’.
The question of the Human Rights Act is a key fault line between the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in the coalition. At the 2010 general election the Conservatives pledged to replace the act with a UK Bill of Rights, a move Hughes had previously criticised.
A commission set up by the coalition to examine the case for a bill produced a split report in December 2012 and the debate has stalled since then.
Hughes, a barrister by training, defended the status quo: ‘Human rights are not about bowing down to frivolous demands. They are about commonsense decisions affecting people’s rights when coming into contact with the power of the state.
‘If we can look beyond the sometimes skewed perceptions, we see that the Human Rights Act is as a measured piece of legislation when understood and used properly.’
Hughes said the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights would continue to be enshrined in English law. ‘Whatever the different party views and individual views, that is the position agreed across government and it will not change during this parliament,’ he said.
He also said it would be unwise to talk about a UK Bill of Rights while the question of Scottish independence remains uncertain.