British Bill of Rights review deadlock likely to mean little progress on legislation before next general election

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An attempt by David Cameron to pave the way for a British Bill of Rights suffered a setback today when a commission set up by the Government failed to agree amongst themselves.

Although seven of the nine members of the Commission on a Bill of Rights agreed there is a strong argument for a UK law, two members opposed the idea, warning that it could be “dangerous, with unintended consequences“.

The deadlock is likely to mean little progress on legislation to reform human rights is made before the next general election.  The Conservatives are likely to offer a “British Bill” in their manifesto in 2015.  But the Liberal Democrats, who do not want to dilute the commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, will seize on the split on the Commission.

The review was launched by the Coalition after mounting Tory pressure to reform human rights laws after a string of controversial rulings by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, such as saying that prisoners should be allowed to vote at general elections and blocking the extradition of alleged terrorists.

The two members who issued a minority report refusing to sign up to a British Bill, Labour peer Baroness Kennedy and lawyer Philippe Sands, said this is not the right  time to focus on a UK-only measure.  They feared that one of the principal arguments used  by the majority of the commission – that it would boost “public ownership” of rights – would be used to promote other aims, including the diminution of people’s rights and “decoupling” the UK from the European Convention.

However, the other seven members concluded that a British version would provide “no less protection” than is contained in the current Human Rights Act, which incorporated the Convention into British law.

Sir Leigh Lewis, who chaired the commission, said: ”We are united in believing that there needs to be respect for the existence of different intellectually coherent viewpoints in relation to the human rights debate, and in believing that the debate needs to be well informed and not distorted by the stereotypes and caricatures that have all too often characterised it in recent years.”

The Commission has made less progress than Tory MPs hoped  and one member, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, resigned in May, claiming the panel had been rigged by Europhiles Nick Clegg and Kenneth Clarke, the former Justice Secretary.