Pannick and Lester on the “British Bill of Rights”

by Carl Gardner on June 2, 2016

Lords Pannick and Lester have form for writing together on human rights, and today Pannick writes on the subject in the Times, while Lester comments in The Brief.

Pannick makes fun of the long delay in producing its “Bill of Rights”:

the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq War, and the assessment of the case for a third runway at Heathrow airport, are each the impetuous and hot-headed rush to judgment of men and women in an unseemly hurry compared to the lengthy deliberations of the Conservative party on human rights.

He thanks Adam Wagner for pointing out that

it is now ten years since David Cameron’s first proposed to replace the Human Rights Act with “a modern British bill of rights”. As leader of the Opposition he gave a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies on June 26, 2006, recognising that “there are huge difficulties and subtleties involved in drafting such a text”. It was, he said, “not a process that can be rushed”. Rushed it has not been.

That’s no surprise, says Lord Pannick:

There is of course a good reason for the delays in coming forward with concrete proposals for a British bill of rights. It is easy to express political platitudes and to pander to popular prejudice. It is much more difficult to produce coherent policies that would improve the present state of the law.

Perhaps, he says

after the referendum, the government’s proposals will finally be published.

Maybe. But as I wrote recently, Theresa May’s call for withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights itself may doom the proposals politically.

Lord Lester characteristically defends the Human Rights Act:

We have a good system. Unlike the rest of Europe, we do not empower our courts to strike down Acts of Parliament that are unconstitutional. What we have is more subtle and in keeping with our parliamentary tradition; all three branches of government – legislative and executive and judicial – share responsibility for respecting human rights. The courts have declaratory powers

Conservatives in particular should study what he says. They have long underestimated the HRA, which is itself an intelligently constructed, moderate British Bill of Rights that fits well into our traditional constitution, and represents reform at its best. Lester, like me, clearly hopes its planned repeal may not happen:

The House of Lords EU select committee concluded that there was a “forceful case” for a rethink. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, openly disagrees with Cameron’s government on human rights. The much-trumpeted Bill of Rights was scarcely mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. It has become what Alice saw in Wonderland – a grin without a cat.

Let’s hope it disappears altogether.

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