The body set up to investigate replacing the Human Rights Act (HRA) with a British bill of rights is expected to publish a ‘disappointing and vague’ report tomorrow.
The commission on a bill of rights, which is now made up of four Conservative nominees and four Liberal Democrat nominees, all QCs, has been in deadlock since its creation in March 2011. The Conservatives’ 2010 election manifesto pledged to scrap the HRA, while the Liberal Democrats (and Labour) promised to protect it.
More than 80% of the responses to the commission’s two consultations, closing in November 2011 and September 2012, proposed keeping the HRA. Respondents argued that the HRA helps maintain parliamentary sovereignty and allows the UK to remain within the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
Scrapping the HRA could mean the UK’s withdrawal from the ECHR, making it only the second state in Europe – the other is Belarus – that is not a signatory.
The Law Society’s response to the 2011 consultation argued for retaining the HRA because it ‘strikes a careful balance between safeguarding fundamental rights and preserving parliamentary sovereignty’.
Then Law Society president John Wotton said: ‘Additional rights can be added to the HRA, but not taken away, based on full public consultation, creating a single document enshrining domestically enforceable rights. Those additional rights might, for example, include trial by jury and habeas corpus.’
Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, one of the original Tory appointees, resigned in March 2012, claiming that he had been branded a ‘maverick’ and that his views were being ignored by Nick Clegg and then justice secretary Kenneth Clarke.
Writing in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, he said that several of his former colleagues on the commission have warned him ‘not to hold my breath and to expect a disappointing and vague report’.