Northern Ireland

British government Bill of Rights represents 'power grab on an epic scale' says Human Rights Consortium

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab. Picture by House of Commons/PA Wire
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab. Picture by House of Commons/PA Wire

THE British government's proposed Bill of Rights has been described as a "power grab on an epic scale" that will violate the Good Friday Agreement's basic human rights guarantees.

Kevin Hanratty, director of the Human Rights Consortium, said the Tory administration's legislation was part of a "push towards the constant erosion of existing rights, domestic protections and international agreements".

His remarks came as Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab introduced a bill at Westminster yesterday that he said would "restore a healthy dose of common sense" to the justice system.

Mr Raab introduced the proposed legislation after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg last week disrupted the controversial policy of flying asylum seekers to Rwanda.

He said he wanted the successor to the Human Rights Act to assert that British courts do not always need to follow case law from Strasbourg, leaving the Supreme Court in London as the ultimate decision-maker on human rights issues.

The Human Rights Act was introduced in 1998 by the Labour government to enable UK nationals to rely on rights contained in the European convention on human rights before the domestic courts.

Mr Hanratty characterised the legislation as a "rights removal bill" that would "undermine and diminish" the current application of human rights law, while "making it harder to challenge the government for rights violations and seek redress".

"The UK governments proposals, if enacted, would represent a substantial weakening of rights and a violation of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement by effectively scrapping the Human Rights Act (HRA)," he said.

"The proposals seek to minimise or withdraw many of the ways in which the HRA holds the government to account either by weakening the role of courts, bypassing existing compliance with certain rights protections or removing them altogether."

The director of Human Rights Consortium, an umbrella group representing more than 150 civil society organisations across the north, said the proposals were at odds with the views of the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland and across Britain.

"Instead of trying to undermine existing protections, the UK government should be taking forward its responsibility to deliver on outstanding rights commitments of our peace process like a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights that would protect and expand our human rights protections," he said.

Sinn Féin MLA Emma Sheerin said the British government was taking "such extreme measures to avoid accountability from an independent court".

"We still don't have a Bill of Rights for the north as promised in the Good Friday Agreement, which would have protected us in this situation – now, we will lose access to the European Court that has provided key judgements in legacy cases," she said.

"The British government's agenda not only threatens our human rights, but also our peace agreement."