David Cameron moves on new human rights act

Michael Gove ordered to draft new version of act in bid to combat European legal influence

Newly appointed justice secretary Michael Gove has been ordered by prime minister David Cameron to draft a new human rights act quickly to curb the alleged excessive influence of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The move is one of a number of early signals that a majority Conservative government under Mr Cameron will be very different in tone to the Conservative-Liberal Democrats regime that preceded it.

In its election manifesto, the Conservatives said the role played in the UK laws by the European Court of Human Rights and the human rights act drafted by Labour “is not acceptable”, promising “to restore common sense and put Britain first”.

Under the changes to come, the European Court of Human Rights will no longer be binding over the UK supreme court, or be able to force changes to British law, because, the Conservatives argue, the Strasbourg court does not have the right to set down legal precedents.


Every judgment against the UK, if they happen, will in future be treated as advisory and will have to be approved by parliament if it is to lead to a change in British law, while legal actions against the UK under the human rights act would be banned for so-called “trivial” cases.

However, the planned changes will prompt a major battle with human rights groups, judges and lawyers.

The Strasbourg court is deeply unpopular with many Conservative MPs, who accuse it of “mission creep”, pointing to judgments requiring the UK to let prisoners vote and ones curbing the rights of London to send foreign prisoners home.

Mr Gove, who was demoted last year from education secretary to an unhappy year as chief whip, is one of the most radical of Mr Cameron’s team, though he has an ability to irk.

His return, however, is an illustration that Mr Cameron does not intend to waste the political capital he enjoys after his majority victory, the biggest surprise triumph in decades and one that was still being celebrated over the weekend.

Secretary of state

In the first round of appointments,

George Osborne

was effectively made deputy prime minister by being appointed as first secretary of state, along with continuing as chancellor of the exchequer, while

Theresa May


Philip Hammond

will stay in the home and foreign offices.

However, Mr Cameron has sought to address anger among backbenchers about the way he operated during his first term, with many believing he and Mr Osborne failed to heed their opinions.

Mr Cameron is promising the backbenchers' influential 1922 Committee a stronger role, while the selection of Mark Harper as government chief whip is being seen as evidence that a more emollient relationship is a priority.

A further round of appointments is due today. Mr Cameron has a greater role for patronage because so many places were taken up in the last government by the Liberal Democrats. He is expected to appoint a significant number of new women to high positions.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Liam Byrne, the man who wrote the "there is no money left" letter for his successor as chief secretary to the treasury in 2010, has said the letter is his "own personal badge of shame".

The letter was used relentlessly by the Conservatives during the election campaign.

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy

Mark Hennessy is Ireland and Britain Editor with The Irish Times