Human Rights Confusion Predicted

There has been much discussion here and there on the subject of Liberty’s claim that introducing a new Bill of Rights to the UK would be constitutionally awkward.

As the Scotland Act and the Good Friday agreement both have the Human Rights Act 1998 “hard-wired” into them, then introducing a new standard, whether to supplement (Labour) or replace (Conservative) the HRA, would not override the devolved standards.

As the excellent Aidan O’Neill QC points out: “All major claims against the Scottish government for human rights violations have been brought on the basis of the Scotland Act since before the Human Rights Act came into force. Abolishing the Act in Britain would not stop it being used in Scotland.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission warns of the “bizarre situation where there was different set of rights in devolved matters and non-devolved matters, and people in England would have fewer rights than people in the devolved jurisdictions.”

It occurs to me that if Westminster were to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, it would be straightforward enough to amend the Bill of Rights (or whatever you’d call it) to refer to that legislation rather than the HRA. That’s legally no problem at all even without the consent of Holyrood, though I accept that politically such a unilateral act may provoke some measure of controversy.

Furthermore – there are very many situations in life in which the rights in Scotland are different to those in England and Wales. That’s part of grown-up devolution / federalism – not “bizarre” at all.

Fiona Murphy of the Committee on the Administration of Justice is quoted as saying “There is a huge backlash against a bill of rights in Scotland.” Really? I can’t say I’d noticed. Although Kenny MacAskill did take a pop at the Magna Carter for being too English.

It also seems to me that most people don’t have a problem with the rights themselves, just with some of the things that some sections of the popular media reprt under the heading of human rights. And with the fact that bad people (or people we’re pretty sure are bad) get to have rights as well.

Perhaps the new Bill of Rights will only apply to nice people (and their pets) and then everyone will be happy. Except bad people. Who have no right to be happy anyway.

The logo used in this post is that of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

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