Labour's plans for human rights

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The Independent Online
Individuals and pressure groups would be able to challenge the Government on a wide range of public interest issues under Labour's plans to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

The plans fall a long way short of a domestic Bill of Rights, however, while the party has fudged a key issue by avoiding discussion of whether senior British judges should be empowered to strike down an Act of Parliament for being in breach of convention rights.

A consultation document published yesterday gives no guarantee that even Parliament would make a change in law following an adverse ruling. It says: "Where, after due process UK legislation is ultimately found to be in breach of the ECHR, consideration will need to be given by the government of the day and Parliament as to what action should be taken."

Further seeds of potential conflict are sown by a proposal that Parliament should be entitled to pass Acts specifically derogating from the convention.

These two provisions could mean that the most controversial claims would still have to be pressed all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

On the plus side, Jack Straw, shadow home secretary, and Paul Boateng, shadow minister for the Lord Chancellor's Department, have proposed in the paper a fast-track route to the higher courts for prompt decisions on unusually difficult or controversial issues.

Claims under the convention to Strasbourg can only be brought be individuals or groups who are victims of alleged violations. Labour would broaden the range of potential claimants by including:

t Individuals seeking to vindicate the broader public interest in constitutional government

t Pressure groups who believe their cause may be prejudiced

t Representative group interests whose collective interests may be disadvantaged.