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Tories vow to sever link with Europe over human rights

Conservatives want to restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK [Photo credit: Slavko Sereda/]

14 April 2015

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Conservatives want to restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK

[Photo credit: Slavko Sereda/]

The Conservative Party has pledged to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) and curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights so that foreign criminals can be more easily deported from Britain.

Launching its election manifesto in Swindon, the Tories promised it would abolish Labour's HRA and introduce a British Bill of Rights to 'restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK'.

The Tories said that the Bill, which was first mooted last October at the party's annual conference, would 'remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights'.

These plans would break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and, as the Tories hope, make the Supreme Court the 'ultimate arbiter' of human rights matters in the UK.

While guaranteeing the basic rights of a fair trial and the right to life, the proposed legislation would 'reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society'.

Strategy 'shambles'

Several prominent lawyers took to social media to analyse the proposals and generally vent their disapproval of the Conservative manifesto.

Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister at 1 Crown Office Row, suggested that the Tory's plans for human rights were a clear climb down from the Lord Chancellor's radical shake-up suggested last year.

'Conservative Party's plan for human rights is a total mess. Their "strategy" for human rights is still on website but they now appear to have got rid of the part about paving the way to leave the European Convention. A shambles,' tweeted Wagner.

He continued: 'Remember, Attorney General Dominic Grieve lost his job because he wouldn't back the Grayling human rights plans. They have now been shelved. Demonstrates the lack of principle and - most importantly - lack of understanding at the centre of the Tory party human rights policy.'

Pump Court Chambers barrister Matthew Scott added: 'Tory plan to replace [HRA] with [British Bill of Rights] won't be welcome in Scotland or [Northern Ireland]. You could hardly devise a more inflammatory policy.'

'The Tories, under Churchill, actually co-wrote the [European Convention on Human Rights],' added David Allen Green of Preiskel & Co. 'They should be as proud of it as Labour is of having created the NHS.'

'Spurious' legal arguments

The Tories suggested that its British Bill of Rights would stop terrorists and foreign criminals from using 'spurious human rights arguments' to prevent deportation.

'We stopped prisoners from having the vote, and have deported suspected terrorists such as Abu Qatada, despite all the problems created by Labour's human rights laws,' claimed the manifesto.

The Palestinian-Jordanian cleric, Qatada, was deported following a lengthy legal battle after the UK and Jordan signed a treaty agreeing that evidence obtained through torture would not be used against him.

'Efficient' legal aid

In addition, the Conservatives promised to ensure that British Armed Forces serving overseas were not subject to 'persistent human rights claims' that 'undermine their ability to do their job'.

The Tory manifesto also vowed to continue the £375m modernisation of the UK courts system and review legal aid 'so they can continue to provide access to justice in an efficient way'.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD

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