Severing ties with the ECHR will only serve to remove the political independence of our rights framework and open the system to abuse and political tactics
Reducing the influence of the European Court of Human Rights in the UK is set to be a focal point of the Conservatives next election campaign. However, in the Tories misplaced attempt to win back the Eurosceptic vote Cameron is dangerously jeopardising the UKs international reputation, individuals’ basic rights and the political autonomy of our highest courts.
It is not yet known whether Cameron’s plans will involve revoking the Human Rights Act which commits the UK to the convention or some sort of halfway house of allowing Parliament to decide which obligations it keeps and which it scraps. Chris Grayling the justice secretary and Theresa May have both been more than forthcoming with their distaste of the UK’s current ties to the convention.
It is clear that the Tories are desperately trying to claw back the Eurosceptic votes they lost to UKIP but abolishing our international rights framework is not the way to do this. The Strasbourg-based ECHR which is entirely separate to the much loathed Brussels EU has come under the firing line of angry and confused voters. Instead of appeasing this anger Mr Cameron has only served to stoke the fire by turning on this county’s most integral source of rights protection.
Whilst it is clear that even if the Tories plans are implemented and even if this means we are completely severed from the Strasbourg Court this will not result in an end to human rights in this country. Many human rights existed before the convention and will continue to exist in one form or another after it. The real fear, however, is that placing the issue of human rights into the hands of political leaders leaves the scope for abuse under alleged ‘parliamentary privilege’ unprecedented.
Allowing parliament to pick and choose when it commits to its international obligations simply cannot be the way our rights framework operates. The point of a European Human Rights framework, and one of the main reasons it was set up after the atrocities of WWII, is that it operates outside a political system. If we allow political influence to exert itself over human rights we will be in danger of only protecting those in political favour and neglecting those who are not. The ECHR allows citizens to take their country to the highest court for unfair or discriminate treatment. If these kinds of rulings are put back in the hands of the very country whom they are against how can the government possibly say that they will be carried out independently?
Sadiq Khan the shadow justice secretary has already written to Mr Cameron urging him to publish a letter by the former Attorney General Dominic Grieve containing advice about the ECHR. The legal advisor to the Tories for four years was dropped as AG in the cabinet reshuffle and there is a strong feeling that it was his commitment to staying in the ECHR that was the fatal blow to his time in office. Nick Clegg launched a scathing attack on the Tories plans over the ECHR in a recent interview and spoke about the root of extremity being formed at the heart of the conservative party.
It is clear that the Tories are gearing up for their come-back fight against their newest rivals UKIP. However choosing to ignore the real issues facing the UK’s position in Europe they have seemingly ‘missed the point’ by opting to instead severely up haul our longstanding and deeply rooted human rights framework. It would be a disastrous move to hand politicians the power over human rights and one which surely would only widen the scope for political abuse, tactics and discrimination.