You will see torture. There will be secret courts for matters the government would be too embarrassed to admit in open trial. Enactment by enactment, Westminster will be able to strip our freedom of speech and our rights to privacy down to meaningless, token gestures. Inequality will go unchecked, the most desperate shall be deprived of their remaining protections, and police powers will insidiously grow without proportion or review. The Bill of Rights will save us, surely? Well, if they can repeal the Human Rights Act outright, because it proves to be an inconvenience…
If you live, work or have someone you love or respect in the UK, please sign this. The repeal of the Human Rights Act will allow uncontrolled and undetectable intrusions on our way of life, our freedoms and our dignity.
To condense a highly complex subject a little: the HRA forces all government bodies, including courts, to make decisions in light of the ECHR. (This is not the same thing as the EU, incidentally, although most EU countries use the ECHR). Judges must interpret the law as closely as possible so that rights are not needlessly and disproportionately violated. The government must do likewise when making regulations, etc. However if Parliament specifically enacts a statute contrary to an ECHR right, the courts can only issue a declaration of incompatibility, flag the issue for the European Court, and try to interpret the case law as best they can. The European right in question does not get “repealed” by the Act of Parliament, but in this particular case, it would be insufficiently protected.
If we scrap the HRA, the Bill of RIghts must either a) keep us in line with ECHR rights and jurisprudence (which would make scrapping the HRA meaningless); or b) ignore the ECHR. If the latter, we will almost certainly be in default of our international obligations under the treaty at some stage because the Bill would not try to keep up with ECHR jurisprudence i.e. case law. We can either get sued continuously at the European Court, and look preposterous and monstrous in front of the rest of Europe, or we leave the treaty and separate ourselves from the oversight of that court.
If we do that: then, unless the Bill has powers to bind all future governments and Parliaments (which is something most UK legislation is, for constitutional reasons, generally unable to do), and the courts have the power to overturn incompatible decisions by those bodies (again, that’s not part of our constitution), that Bill is going to be redrafted, placed in parenthesis, ignored and rendered irrelevant by every Parliament and government from here on in, bit by bit. Some have argued that the Bill won’t be like ordinary statute law, because like the HRA it won’t be subject to implied repeal (later statutes can’t accidentally remove the validity and effect of the Bill). I would however invite such people to consider the fact that the HRA is being repealed outright in this scenario, which kind of suggests that “constitutional statutes having extra force than ordinary statutes” may not wash with governments in the future, when they themselves think that the Bill, like the HRA, is getting in their way.
No country which steps down from an international rights treaty has ever ended up with a more robust and considered domestic rights system. What will happen will be very similar to in the “good old days,” where the common law rights were eroded by statute as and when, because Parliament trumped common law. This is why this government blithers on so proudly about a return to common law rights, by the way: common law rights sound very English and proper but they are weak. They are overwritten by statute, irreversibly. Unlike that European Right I mentioned in my first paragraph, which lives on despite the facts of the case: here, if statute says so, the right is extinguished forever. The right is repealed. We will see secret courts (we already have seen this indignity, and it will only get worse). We will see torture. We will see government policy whitewashing rights again and again, because without some external oversight or a stronger judiciary than our country’s constitution will allow, that’s what governments do.