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As part of the UK’s Brexit action plan, the government has proposed a new Bill of Rights which could repeal and replace current human rights protections.These currently reside under the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK domestic law. The new Bill of Rights is seen as a controversial proposal and has prompted debate among legal professionals, human rights activists and politicians.
Aims to provide clarity
One of the main criticisms of the current Human Rights Act is that it creates confusion and uncertainty about how the courts should interpret international human rights law, and how far this should be incorporated into domestic UK law. The new proposed Bill of Rights aims to clarify the relationship between the UK and international human rights law, by providing clear guidance on how international law should be interpreted and applied in the UK.
Granting greater powers to the supreme court
In addition, the proposed bill would give the UK Supreme Court the power to interpret and apply the bill directly. Currently, the ECHR has the final say on human rights cases in the UK, but the proposed bill would change this and affirm the supremacy of the UK Supreme Court. In short, it’ll give the court the final say on the interpretation and application of human rights legislation.
Parliament’s power to derogate
A more controversial provision of the proposed bill is that it’ll give Parliament the power to derogate from certain human rights, in a given circumstance. Many believe that this gives Parliament too much power and even the ability to ‘suspend’ human rights in certain situations. There are concerns that individuals’ human rights will not always be protected under the law.
A weakening of human rights protections
There are also concerns that the new bill would weaken current human rights protections in the UK. Some human rights activists argue that it could lead to a watering down of human rights protections, particularly for vulnerable groups such as refugees, asylum seekers, and ethnic minorities. For example, Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty Human Rights, said: “The bill of rights will result in everyone’s rights being eroded and everyone’s protections being reduced but obviously with the most disproportionate effects on already marginalised communities.”
But what about common law rights?
Many are concerned that, if the Human Rights Act is repealed, we’ll suffer a loss of our human rights protections in the UK as the proposed Bill of Rights appears to offer a watered-down version of protections. However, many ECHR judgments aren’t embedded in the UK’s common law jurisdiction – offering another source of human rights protections.
The future of human rights in the UK
Despite the controversies surrounding the proposed Bill of Rights, it doesn’t constitute a loss of human rights protections, as the UK operates a system of checks and balances. Checks allow political institutions to limit one another’s power – for example by blocking, delaying or simply criticising decisions while balances guarantee that a wide variety of views and interests are represented in the democratic process. Hence, the courts will ensure that the UK government does not breach individuals’ human rights. The new bill will still offer human rights protections and the common law will provide another protection mechanism. At present, the proposed Bill of Rights is only on its second reading in the House of Commons, so its implementation is still uncertain. The future of human rights in the UK is yet to change.