Fear of legal chaos as claims flood in

Human Rights Act: £40m put aside for anticipated law suits
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The Independent Online

The most important change in English law since the Magna Carta of 1215 comes into force tomorrow - and already there's trouble. Courts are braced for chaos arising from a flood of claims under the new Human Rights Act .

The most important change in English law since the Magna Carta of 1215 comes into force tomorrow - and already there's trouble. Courts are braced for chaos arising from a flood of claims under the new Human Rights Act .

Official predictions are that the ground-breaking legislation will create an extra workload for staff equivalent to nearly 15 years of court time.

Nearly £40m in extra legal aid has been allocated to pay for anticipated challenges, which will be brought in British courts instead of the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

On the eve of the new Act, the Lord Chancellor is already being forced to back down by seven female court clerks over a new training policy which they claim sexually discriminates against them.

The women say the training, which forces clerks under the age of 40 to take a solicitor or barrister qualification, breaches section eight of the Act by interfering with their family life.

Eager to avoid an embarrassing court challenge, the Lord Chancellor agreed to consider scrapping the regulations, but the women still plan to take action if their needs are not met.

British Muslims intend to use the new Act to have polygamy legalised by claiming that the law banning a man from taking more than one wife breaches the convention.

The case, brought by the Muslim Parliament, is also being brought under section eight of the Act.

Prisoners are expected to exercise their right to life by demanding condoms to protect them from Aids, and also to mount challenges against degrading conditions in segregation units.

Indeed, next week, Rifat Mehmet, an armed robber serving a 27-year sentence, will be the first prisoner to claim a breach of his human rights when he launches a High Court action.

He will allege that he was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment while being held in a special unit for disruptive inmates at Woodhill prison, near Milton Keynes.

The Ministry of Defence, like the Prison Service, claims it has ensured its policies are in line with the legislation to prevent large compensation payouts. However, the Armed Forces and security services face legal action from servicemen and women who feel they have been disciplined or punished unfairly.

Nigel Wylde, a former British Army officer, and David Shayler, a former MI5 officer, are charged under the Official Secrets Act, but intend to base their defences on their right to freedom of expression.

Asylum seekers are also expected to challenge the system where their cases are decided by immigration officers on the basis that it breaches the right to judgement by an independent tribunal.

The Act will also cover schools that may be banned from trying to stop pupils over 16 from engaging in sex as a breach of privacy rights.

Yesterday it emerged that the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire, Richard Childs, was prepared to destroy any personnel records of officers containing information about their Masonic connections because of fears of action under the terms of the new Act.

The Government has asked police forces, on a voluntary basis, to draw up lists of Freemasons in the ranks, and would like them to be made public. But Mr Childs fears that this would be in breach of the Act's articles on the right to privacy.