Human Rights Act: Tory plans to scrap policy slammed as 'appalling' by Scottish Government

The Conservatives want to introduce a new British Bill of Rights instead

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The proposed scrapping of the Human Rights Act by the Conservatives has been condemned by the Scottish Government, which said the “appalling” move was likely to harm the country’s most vulnerable people.

On his first day in the job, the new Scottish Secretary David Mundell provoked a serious row between Holyrood and Westminster by suggesting that any change in legislation would have to be adopted north of the border.

The Tories want to replace the Human Rights Act with a new British Bill of Rights, giving UK judges and the Westminster parliament the “final say” on human rights issues instead of Strasbourg. If the changes go ahead, the European Court’s judgments would be treated as “advisory” rather than binding in the future.

Mr Mundell, who is the only Tory MP in Scotland, said: “New legislation replaces existing legislation and therefore the new act will apply in Scotland.” He claimed that Scots were worried about the undue influence of the European Court and felt that the current system “got the balance wrong between rights and responsibilities”.

But Michael Matheson, the Scottish Justice Secretary, responded by saying that the Scottish Government would “robustly oppose” any attempt to repeal the Human Rights Act or to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

The First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon also condemned the policy. “I oppose the repeal of the Human Rights Act, I think it’s an appalling thing to be doing. Human rights are there to protect all of us,” she said.

In a statement, the Scottish Government added: “Any erosion of current protections would threaten fundamental rights and freedoms to which everyone in a modern democratic society is entitled. Inevitably, the most vulnerable in society would be hit the hardest.”

The row broke out as Jim Murphy came under further pressure to step down as Scottish Labour leader, having presided over the party’s electoral wipeout north of the border. He lost his own seat of Renfrewshire East to the SNP’s Kirsten Oswald. MSP Alex Rowley has quit as Labour’s local government spokesman at Holyrood, warning that the party was heading for “disappearance” in Scotland if Mr Murphy refused to leave. Unison, the biggest public sector union in Britain, also said it “would not oppose” him being replaced.

“I sincerely hold the view that you continuing as leader whilst not in the Scottish Parliament, and not in an elected position holding a democratic mandate, means you will become an unhelpful distraction from the real issues that Scottish Labour must focus on,” Mr Rowley wrote in a letter to Mr Murphy.