British expert group splits on rights Bill


The British commission on a Bill of rights, set up by prime minister David Cameron, has divided sharply over the European Convention on Human Rights, with some members warning attempts to create a Bill of rights could “decouple” the UK from the rest of Europe.

The human rights convention, which applies to 47 European countries, is linked to the Council of Europe. The convention and the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) are increasingly unpopular in the UK, following a series of court cases in which they were used to block extradition of suspected terrorists.

Responding in the House of Commons to the commission’s conclusions, a senior minister in the British government said the convention had been a “laudable” document in the days when Soviet leader Joseph Stalin sent people to the gulags but ECHR judges had moved “further and further away” from the goals of the convention’s creators.

Justice secretary Chris Grayling said: “The original human rights convention was a laudable document written when Stalin was in power and people were sent to the gulags without trial.

“Over 50 or 60 years of jurisprudence the European Court of Human Rights has moved further and further away from the goals of its creators, and I believe that this is an issue that we have to address in this country and across Europe.”

Mr Cameron created the commission to lay the groundwork for British-only legislation but its report yesterday did little to advance his hopes this side of the 2015 general election.

Seven of its nine members favoured the creation of a British law but two produced minority findings, saying the plan could have “dangerous and unintended” consequences.

The majority found a British Bill of Rights Act would provide “no less protection” than is contained in the Human Rights Act brought in during the Labour Party’s years in power, which incorporated the European convention into British law.

The Conservative Party is expected to include a Bill of rights in its general election manifesto but no progress is expected beforehand given the declared opposition of its coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats.

Conceding that little will happen for now, Mr Grayling said he remained convinced “it is time to examine how to curtail the involvement of the European Court of Human Rights in UK domestic matters”.

“I also think that in future there needs to be an absolutely clear balance between rights and responsibilities in law,” he said. He added that since its creation the Strasbourg court had “pried more and more into matters that should be routine issues for national courts and parliaments to deal with”.

“It has tried, effectively, to set itself up as a supreme court for Europe,” he said.