The Human Rights Act is not a challenge to the common law but a vital protection for it, one of the highest-profile barristers in England and Wales argues today.
In a pamphlet published by free-market thinktank Politeia, Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers (pictured) cautions the Conservative party against its plan to replace the act with a ‘British bill of rights’. Such proposals envisage ‘very significant constitutional change’, she said.
A draft British bill of rights promised by the Conservative Party before Christmas has yet to appear, leading to speculation that the measure has run into difficulty.
In her pamphlet What’s the Point of the Human Rights Act? Rose says that the 1998 Human Rights Act plays a vital role in the UK constitution. The act ‘offers a constitutional framework for the enforcement of rights which would otherwise be lacking’.
In limited circumstances it can also fill gaps in the scope of the ‘substantive rights protected under our own common law’.
Rose accuses the current government of corroding respect for the courts and legal process through hostile responses to adverse judgments. She contrasts the situation with that 20 years ago when she was first appointed to the government’s panel of counsel.
‘We were told over and over again… that our role as treasury counsel was not to win at all costs. The aim was to ensure that all arguments were fairly put before the court, and that the government’s position was explained.’
Such an approach to public law litigation ‘now seems archaic’, she says, blaming the change on the last government.
Criticising the Tory party’s human rights plan, she says: ‘A Conservative government ought first of all to be in the business of conserving what is valuable of our traditions.’ Foremost among those should be fundamental rights and freedoms, and the legal system which protects them.
‘But if the government does not understand or respect those rights or that system, the risks of doing irreparable damage are high.’