Tories’ repeal of Human Rights Act could spark constitutional crisis

Newly appointed Justice Secretary Michael Gove will push ahead with Conservative plans to repeal the Human Rights Act – a move experts warn could spark a constitutional crisis and blight Britain’s reputation on human rights worldwide.

Conservative Party sources, fresh from last week’s general election victory, told the Guardian the human rights reforms are imminent.

Civil liberty advocates warn the soon-to-be implemented measures would erode the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, the right to protest and the right to freedom from torture and discrimination.

Although the Tories were keen to push ahead with the legal changes during their last term in government, the move was blocked by the party’s ex-coalition partner the Liberal Democrats. But as a majority government, the Conservatives are now poised to push ahead with the reforms.

Central to the Tories’ election manifesto was a pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act (HRA) and significantly curb the power of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Britain. The legal reforms are expected to surface in PM David Cameron’s plans for his first 100 days, which will be outlined in the Queen’s Speech on May 27.

Under these changes, the Conservatives would replace the HRA with a Tory-styled British Bill of Rights. Britain’s Supreme Court would no longer be answerable to the ECHR, with the Strasbourg-based court losing the power to order changes to UK law.

The plans were drawn up in 2014 by then-Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling. At the time, Grayling proposed Britain withdraw from the ECHR if the Council of Europe rejects the Conservatives’ British Bill of Rights.

Constitutional crisis

Considerable doubt exists among experts that the Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog responsible for ensuring the Convention is upheld, will accept the Tories’ proposals. As a result, it is widely believed Britain will disengage from the European Convention on Human Rights and undermine Europe’s’ civil liberties framework in the process.

Britain’s withdrawal from the ECHR has been strongly opposed by former Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke and the UK’s ex-Attorney General Dominic Grieve. Grieve has long condemned the proposal, warning its consequences would be devastating.

In December, he said the government’s threat to potentially abandon the Strasbourg court undermines international law and could fray the constitutional fabric that holds the United Kingdom together. Echoing grieve, analysts warn such a withdrawal would spark a constitutional crisis in the UK.

They suggest the move would be flatly rejected by Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) and would mean the Conservative government has violated Northern Ireland’s 1998 Good Friday Agreement.