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Justice Secretary Promises New Bill of Rights

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Britain will have a new Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 will be scrapped in favour of a British bill of rights according to new Justice Secretary, Liz Truss.

Prime Minister Theresa May, has previously signalled strong support for a British bill of rights that critics fear could lead to a watering-down of Human Rights law.

She said in a speech as home secretary, “This is Great Britain, the country of Magna Carta, parliamentary democracy and the fairest courts in the world. And we can protect Human Rights ourselves in a way that doesn’t jeopardise national security or bind the hands of parliament. A true British bill of rights, decided by parliament and amended by parliament, would protect not only the rights set out in the convention, but could include traditional British rights not protected by the European Convention of Human Rights such as the right to trial by jury.”

Would a British Bill of Rights jeopardise existing Human Rights in the UK, or strengthen them?

Human Rights in the Britain – A brief history

Theresa May is right to point out that Britain has a long, illustrious history of Human Rights law.

The first Human Rights related law was passed in 1166, one hundred years after the Norman Conquest, by Henry II. The Assize of Clarendon was a series of ordinances which established the first jury, paving the way for the end of trial by combat and trial by ordeal. In 1215 the Magna Carta was signed by King John, which introduced habeas corpus, allowing people to appeal against imprisonment without trial.

The first Bill of Rights was passed in 1689. This landmark act set in legislation the right to petition the Monarch (a precursor to political protest rights); the freedom from cruel and unusual punishments (the forerunner to the ban on torture contained in our Human Rights Act) and the freedom from being fined without trial.

In 1833 the Slavery Abolition Act was passed, ending the slave trade throughout the British Empire. Universal suffrage was finally achieved in 1928 when all women received the right to vote and in 1950, following the atrocities of the Second World War, the European Convention of Human Rights was agreed.

In 1975 and 1976 respectively, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act made it illegal to discriminate against anyone on grounds of their gender or ethnicity, and introduced the concept of indirect discrimination. Finally, in 1998, the Labour Government passed the Human Rights Act, which encompassed all the rights that many British people had fought and died for over the previous 832 years.

Busting the myths surrounding Human Rights law

The Human Rights Act is not imposed on us by Europe. It simply incorporates the Convention on Human Rights - itself largely drafted by British lawyers - into UK law. The Convention was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1950 – a body set up after the Second World War to promote democracy, Human Rights and the rule of law in Europe - it has nothing to do with the European Union. There is no talk whatsoever about the UK leaving the Council of Europe, even if Brexit occurs.

It is also a myth that British courts are bound by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. British courts must take account of judgments passed by the ECHR but are not required to blindly follow them. British judges are supposed to take account of our own laws and customs and often depart from ECHR case law. This in turn gives the ECHR an opportunity to review its decisions.

Finally, the Human Rights Act is not just an instrument to prevent Britain deporting foreign-born terrorists and criminals. In fact, the Act specifically states that those suspected of or convicted of crimes can be deprived of their liberty. Although it is true that deportation cases can be appealed on Human Rights grounds, appellants require an expert Immigration lawyer to mount a challenge, and far more cases fail than succeed.

In reality, there are only two situations in which a foreign criminal might potentially succeed in resisting deportation on Human Rights grounds:

  1. The foreign-born criminal has lived in the UK since childhood and has no social or cultural connections with his or her home country and the crime they have committed is not overly serious.
  2. If the foreign criminal has children and a partner in the UK, the question becomes whether the family can be expected to relocate abroad – i.e. is it reasonable and proportionate for the family to be permanently split by deportation of the foreign criminal or whether the foreign criminal should be allowed to remain with his or her family in the UK.

The British courts demand strong evidence of family life and must show that deportation would cause serious harm to family life.

Why does the British government want to replace the Human Rights Act?

The main arguments for replacing the Human Rights Act seem to centre on being able to deport foreigners and not be bound by the ECHR. But on examining the facts, it is clear that Britain can and does deport foreign nationals and our courts regularly choose not to follow ECHR decisions.

Until we see a draft of the new Bill of Rights, we can only speculate what it is the government is trying to achieve by tinkering with Human Rights law.

OTS Solicitors is one of the most respected Immigration law firms in the UK. By making an appointment with one of our Immigration solicitors you can be assured of receiving some of the best legal advice available. If you have any questions regarding your Human Rights, please contact us today.

If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this blog, please phone our London office on 0203 959 9123.

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