Should we replace the Human Rights Act?

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The Independent Online

YES - David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party

Any fair audit of the Human Rights Act would come to the conclusion that change is needed in order to protect our security and freedom more effectively. It has made it harder to protect our security, has done little to protect some of our liberties and it is hampering the fight against crime and terrorism.

There is a case for abolishing the Human Rights Act and doing nothing else. But this would not solve the problem on terrorism, and it has the strong disadvantage of taking a step backwards on rights and liberties.

Another option would be to abolish the Act and pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This would address the security challenge but it has significant disadvantages. The Common Law cannot properly protect the citizen from ministers who have the power to override it by statutory instrument, and the act of leaving the ECHR would send a message to other countries that you cannot have rights and security at the same time.

I believe that the right way forward is through a British Bill of Rights that balances rights with responsibilities. This would clearly set out people's rights, would enable those rights to be protected in British courts, and would strengthen our hand in the fight against crime and terrorism.

A modern British Bill of Rights should spell out the fundamental duties and responsibilities of people living in this country both as citizens and foreign nationals. It should protect the fundamental rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights in clearer and more precise terms. Giving greater clarity and precision would allow those rights to be enforced more easily and effectively in circumstances where they ought to be protected but it would become harder to extend them inappropriately as under the present law.

By establishing a new landmark in our constitution and our legislation, we can make Britain a better place to live. A well-drafted and enduring Bill of Rights can also make it easier to achieve the acceptance by every citizen in Britain of the rights of every other inhabitant of these islands. That, in turn, can help us to promote active citizenship and to forge a renewed sense of national cohesion making a lasting contribution to the general wellbeing of our country.

NO - Alex Carlile, Government Adviser on Terrorism

The European Convention on Human Rights was prepared by mainly British lawyers on the initiative of Winston Churchill.

He had the clear view that universal human rights standards were needed across Europe. People needed to be protected from any future horrors of Nazism and the like. His instructions and vision were brought to fruition by the great attorney general Hartley Shawcross and others. The Human Rights Act incorporated this vision fully into British law. It has worked well. The Administrative Court has become a world paradigm for the fair enforcement of solid civil liberties.

The case law shows judges, sometimes under unfortunate political pressure, balancing the several necessary factors.

In particular, they have successfully maintained the necessary dynamic tension between the national interest and the discretion of ministers.

The judges have managed on almost all occasions to build confidence that abuse of administrative action will be dealt with by the courts, but that legitimate ministerial discretion will be respected.

Successful governments have not always appreciated how important this balance is for our democratic integrity as a nation.

Like most liberals, I favour the introduction of a Bill of Rights. However, the way this has been presented by David Cameron looks like mere political burbling, policy with all the signs of having been written on the edge of a paper napkin.

Mr Cameron, a clever man, would have done better if his proposals had any substance. He has not explained any differences between his proposals and the present situation - perhaps because there is so little. The system ain't broke and Mr Cameron either is living in an imaginary world in which he sees cracks in an unbroken structure, or is playing political smoke and mirrors. I am not impressed. He has let down his own high standards.

I would have been far more impressed had he said that the real need is for Parliament to pass fewer, but better, laws founded solidly on the human rights matrix provided by the European Convention. The law would be better understood by the public, and even by some newspaper editors, if governments felt less of an impulse to fill every parliamentary hour with new legislation.