This week Chris Chope MP urged the government to publish its proposals for the British Bill of Rights. He recalled that the mandate to repeal the Human Rights Act in May’s general election is now eight months old.
Not only was the British Bill of Rights promised to great fanfare at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in 2014, following the public discussion which followed the Coalition’s Commission on such a measure. But it was pledged in the 2015 manifesto. Nonetheless all are still waiting. Two able ministers are at the helm: Michael Gove the Secretary of State and Dominic Raab, an experienced human rights lawyer. Anticipated as part of the first 100 days blitz, the government held back, scheduling consultation first for Autumn 2015, then for Christmas and then it seemed for the new year. Yet February is now upon us. Unless things start moving the Westminster timetable may prove too tight to get the bill through this Parliament.
Given the opposition amongst some members of the profession, amongst some MPs and peers, time is needed to discuss the proposals and then to consider the responses. Ministers also need to take the floor to explain why the status quo and the Human Rights Act is unpopular in the country and how it can be damaging the cause of liberties. These are serious questions. There should be no temptation to shrink behind ‘Guardianista’ and ‘Daily Mail reader’ distinctions. Rather than replacing the human rights act ‘as a populist gesture’ as critics imply, a British Bill of Rights could reframe what are longstanding common law British liberties.
This is not only an issue of democratic accountability – but one of parliamentary timing. In Politeia’s debate on the British Bill of Rights last Wednesday, Chris Chope MP warned delay in consultation could push the debate into the second year of the parliament, meaning a bill would only be presented in Parliament in 2018. Two distinguished lawyers, Jonathan Fisher QC author of The British Bill of Rights: Protecting Freedom Under the Law and Martin Howe QC discussed how, in law, things could move from drawing board to Bill. All that remains is for the powers-that-be to bring on the consultation.