This week David Cameron suggested it is possible that the UK may withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This was a treaty formally enacted in 1953 which Britain joined in the same year. Cameron had originally rejected withdrawal, which put him against senior members of his party such Teresa May and Michael Gove. However, Cameron appears to have back tracked as he now refuses to rule it out as a possibility.
The current Human Rights Act (HRA) of 1998 enables ECHR to hold considerable weight within the British legal system; protecting human rights and basic human freedoms outlined in its numerous articles.
The Conservative party favours a move to undermine the power of the HRA by putting forward a British Bill of Rights that isn’t legally bound by European courts. David Cameron had previously stated that he wanted to repeal the HRA within one hundred days of the new government. However, Cameron’s aim seems unrealistic now considering that any decisions regarding this are due to be put forward after the referendum regarding the UK’s membership in the EU which itself is due to take place at the end of 2017.
In reaction to this people have, perhaps rightly, criticised this move. This is primarily because the withdrawal from the Convention was not at all mentioned in the Conservative election manifesto for the May elections. However, the Conservative election manifesto had pledged repeal Labour’s Human Rights Act which allowed for the Convention to play a significant role in UK law. Cameron has clearly stated that he will do anything and will not rule out anything in order to stand by his pledge.
The reason that this has come to the fore of Conservative politics is in part because the Conservative party want to endow more judicial power to the British courts, which Cameron believes have been recently undermined by European law. In place of this the Conservatives have suggested a British Bill of Rights, which would hold the rulings of the British courts above that of the European law from ECHR.
Little has been said about what this potential Bill of Rights would contain. However, statements have been made suggesting that it would protect basic human rights as outlined by ECHR, but end policies which allow foreign criminals and terrorists to be safe from deportation from the UK. Nonetheless, this is very little to go off so far before making a judgement on it.
Some in opposition have suggested that this the creation of a British Bill of Rights by the Conservatives would be detrimental to the rights of the most vulnerable in our society. However, evidence at the moment for this is scare considering, as mentioned above, very little has actually been proposed for what the bill should contain.
It is important to note that ECHR is not part of the EU. Therefore, if Cameron were to withdraw from ECHR it is not necessarily a move to distance Britain from the EU. Contrary to this, Jean-Claude Junker, president of the European Commission has recently declared that Cameron wants Britain permanently in Europe.