Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to terminate the Human Rights Act if the Conservatives are re-elected in Britain’s 2015 general election. The controversial proposal has stoked the ire of civil rights groups across the nation.
Speaking on the final day of the Conservative Party’s four-day conference, Cameron pledged to scrap the Act and replace it with a British “bill of rights.”
However, the prime minister did not explicitly confirm that a future Conservative government would withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights — a move that would have far-reaching repercussions for Britain’s relationship with Europe.
But legal experts and civil liberties campaigners suggest the PM’s pledge to repeal the Act could radically transform Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Kate Allen, head of Amnesty International, denounced the PM’s controversial policy proposal, emphasizing that the Human Rights Act has historically been a bedrock of social, legal, and economic protection. “It’s disappointing to hear the PM vowing to scrap the Human Rights Act when it has done so much good. We should be defending it,” she said.
In his address, designed to relay the Tories’ self-styled vision for Britain’s social and economic future, the PM sharply criticized the Court. “It’s not just the European Union that needs sorting out — it’s the European Court of Human Rights,” he stated.
“When that charter was written, in the aftermath of the Second World War, it set out the basic rights we should respect. But since then, interpretations of that charter have led to a whole lot of things that are frankly wrong.”
Cameron added that the ECHR has countered Britain’s national interest by calling for prisoners’ voting rights and delaying the deportation of foreigners suspected of terrorist activities.
“Rulings to stop us deporting suspected terrorists. The suggestion that you’ve got to apply the human rights convention even on the battlefields of Helmand. And now — they want to give prisoners the vote. I’m sorry, I just don’t agree,” Cameron said.
Speaking to conference delegates, the PM argued that Britain should not “require instruction” on such issues from judges located in Strasbourg. He added that the Conservatives’ proposed move to repeal the Human Rights Act would effectively allow for the passing of a bill of rights rooted in British values.
The ECHR reportedly issues ten judgments against Britain out of a total of 1,500 legal challenges brought against the UK government each year. Legal experts claim that while some of these judgments have roused a degree of controversy among UK ministers and media outlets, their real impact has been minimal.
Conference speeches from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and Home Secretary Theresa May on Tuesday revealed little about the Conservative perspective on human rights. But Cameron’s proposed legislative change offered a glimpse into social and economic Britain under a re-elected Tory government.
The PM’s Human Rights Act vow and pledge to introduce a UK bill of rights has been a long-term Tory agenda. The party’s eurosceptic wing has been particularly vocal with respect to the ECHR, with Grayling and May consistently stating that Britain could reject it on the Conservatives’ watch.
Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti condemned Cameron’s suggested legislative overhaul, arguing the move could considerably impact upon Britain’s adherence to human rights law.
“Shame on the prime minister for citing Churchill, while promising to trash his legacy. The Convention protects both prisoners of war and soldiers sent off to fight and die with inadequate equipment. But the Prime Minister believes there is no place for human rights in Helmand — on that, he and ISIS agree,” she said.
Tim Hancock, campaigns director at Amnesty UK, said: “It’s exasperating to hear the Prime Minister vow to tear up the Human Rights Act again – so he can draft ‘his own.’”
Hancock warned that “human rights are not in the gift of politicians to give” and “must not be made a political plaything to be bestowed or scrapped on a whim.”