The complexities of repealing the Human Rights Act while continuing to support the European Convention on Human Rights have been highlighted in a speech by Telegraph Media Group executive director Lord Black.
Speaking in the Lords this week with an unerring eye for a headline, Lord Black described the HRA as “a piece of constitutional vandalism” which was “put on the statute book without enough rigorous consultation or scrutiny.”
But not including its replacement with a British Bill of Rights in the Queen’s Speech was “a mark of great wisdom” because of the difficulties involved, he said, adding that “the damage done by the HRA is so far-reaching and so complex that it will take time to work out how to undo it.”
One obvious complexity is the adoption of the principles of the Human Rights Act into the Scotland Act 1998 which established the Scottish Parliament, something First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to defend. The Scottish Government says there is a “special duty” on Scottish ministers and the Scottish Parliament “to act in accordance with the Convention rights” and a Scottish Government minister must certify all its legislation is ECHR compliant.
But Lord Black, who chairs the News Media Association’s legal, political and regulatory affairs committee, said he was an “unashamed admirer” of the European Convention on Human Rights which was “a beacon of liberty for others in the world who do not enjoy the freedoms that we do.”
He added the ECHR was “a fundamental part of our lives long before 1998 when this Act changed everything. If someone believed that the state was not living up to its ideals, they could take a case to Strasbourg where we would be required to find a remedy for any breach. It was a common-sense system which worked well: it ensured that we maintained our fundamental human rights.”
But to remove the HRA principles from Scots law would almost certainly need changes to the Scotland Act and therefore approval from Scottish ministers which Ms Sturgeon has made very clear will not be forthcoming. So taking the HRA out of UK law entirely – even if a new Bill of Rights acknowledges the value of the ECHR and the role of the European Court – might not just take time but a change of administration in Scotland. And no-one expects that any time soon.
The Hansard record of Lord Black’s speech can be read here.