Human Rights Act here to stay, insists Falconer

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Indy Politics

The Government is to launch a drive to dispel "myths" about the Human Rights Act and has dropped plans to amend or scrap it.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, said that the purpose and effect of the Act had been "widely misrepresented and misunderstood" among the general public and people working in the public sector.

He said the Government remained "fully committed" to the 1998 Act, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into British law, and would not bring in legislation to water it down. That prospect had been raised in May by Tony Blair, who asked John Reid, the Home Secretary, to consider whether primary legislation was needed to address court rulings which overruled the Government.

The Government's decision to stand by the Act will be seen as a victory for Lord Falconer and Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, over Mr Blair and Mr Reid, who have openly criticised the way it works.

Announcing the findings of the Government's review, the Lord Chancellor said that court decisions under the Act had had "no significant impact on criminal law, or on the Government's ability to fight crime". Although he conceded it had had an impact on counter-terrorism laws, he said that this stemmed from decisions by the European Court of Human Rights.

Lord Falconer admitted that steps needed to be taken to make the Act work. Guidelines would be issued to officials and some legislation might be needed to ensure that "public protection" was safeguarded. A decision would be taken by November after a review of how the police, parole and prison services balance protection against individual rights.

The review concluded: "Negative and damaging myths prevail about the Human Rights Act. These myths undermine the public's confidence not only in the Act but in the very idea of human rights." It said there was an "urgent need" to debunk the three types of myth about the Act - partial reporting of the launch of cases but not their eventual outcome; "pure urban myths" in which the Act was blamed for actions which had nothing to do with it; and "rumours and impressions" which took root and have "an accumulated and corrosive effect".

In future, ministers will take a more proactive approach to rebut criticism of the Act. "I'm sure we won't persuade everybody but I am sure, over time, there will be a better understanding," said Lord Falconer.

Dominic Grieve, the shadow Attorney General, said: "We have had a prime minister stating that specific legislation would be introduced to deal with areas of the Act which are unsatisfactory and then a complete climbdown. Lord Falconer has now announced an extremely low-key review while leaving open the possibility that some legislation might be needed later."