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Home secretary calls on Britain to ditch European Convention on Human Rights

Theresa May uses EU referendum speech to sling mud at the Human Rights Act and Strasbourg court

25 April 2016

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The home secretary, Theresa May, has attacked the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), claiming that preventing the deportation of 'dangerous foreign nationals' makes the UK less secure.

Speaking at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in central London today, the home secretary slammed the international treaty for binding the 'hands of parliament' and for doing nothing to change the attitude to human rights of Russia's government.

In her speech on the upcoming EU referendum, the 'reluctant member of the In campaign' said the convention added nothing to the UK's prosperity and that reform of human rights laws would only be brought about by leaving the ECHR and 'the jurisdiction of its court'.

'It wasn't the European Union that delayed for years the extradition of Abu Hamza, almost stopped the deportation of Abu Qatada, and tried to tell parliament that - however we voted - we could not deprive prisoners of the vote. It was the European Convention on Human Rights,' said May.

The member of Parliament for Maidenhead, who once misleadingly claimed the Human Rights Act had blocked the deportation of an illegal immigrant because he had a pet cat, defended her staunch opposition to the convention and the Strasbourg court by stating she was not 'against human rights'.

Instead, the home secretary argued that the as yet unseen British Bill of Rights would protect convention and 'traditional British rights not protected by the ECHR', such as the right to trial by jury.

'Human rights were not invented in 1950, when the convention was drafted, or in 1998, when it was incorporated into our law through the Human Rights Act,' May added.

'This is Great Britain - the country of Magna Carta, parliamentary democracy and the fairest courts in the world - and we can protect human rights ourselves in a way that doesn't jeopardise national security or bind the hands of parliament.'

The home secretary also admitted to being 'no fan' of the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, or the European Court of Justice. However, May said the Luxembourg court did not hold the same power over member states that the Strasbourg court does.

Responding to today's speech, the shadow justice secretary, Lord Falconer, told the Guardian that May's 'appalling' stance on ECHR was driven by ambitions for leadership of the Conservative party.

Describing May's comments as ignorant, illiberal, and misguided, the Labour peer said: 'She is sacrificing Britain's 68-year-old commitment to human rights for her own miserable Tory leadership ambitions.'

Bella Sankey, policy director for Liberty, said the home secretary was playing 'fast and loose with Churchill's legacy' to bolster her political credentials.

'It was only a matter of time before the ECHR got dragged into the EU referendum debate,' said the non-practising barrister.

'But the convention doesn't bind parliament and - despite Theresa May's best efforts at mud-slinging and myth-spreading over the years - the case for remaining a signatory is unequivocal.'

Meanwhile, Rachel Logan, Amnesty's legal programme director, said the 'absurd hokey-cokey' of government ministers threatening withdrawal from the ECHR was 'music to Kremlin ears'.

'People don't want politicians to pick and choose what rights they get, and who is entitled to them,' said the barrister. 'Ordinary people have fought for their hard won rights over generations and we mustn't let Mrs May strike them through.'

May's claims that the UK has the fairest courts will raise more than a few eyebrows following recent news that the Ministry of Justice is to consult on raising fees in the immigration and asylum tribunal by 500 per cent.

Speaking last week, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, chairman of the Bar, said the effect of the fee hike would be to deny justice to those appealing asylum and immigration decisions.

'Our justice system is world renowned and is supposed to provide justice for all,' said Doerries. 'But the government is pricing many people out of the justice system.'

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