The Conservatives' manifesto says the party wants to scrap the Human Rights Act. David Cameron has appointed Michael Gove, the former education secretary, to be Justice Secretary; this means he'll be responsible for the policy.
How does the Act work?
The Human Rights Act is a piece of law, introduced in 1998, that guarantees human rights in Britain. It was introduced as one of the first major reforms of the last Labour government.
In practice, the Act has two main effects. Firstly, it incorporates the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic British law.
What this means is that if someone has a complaint under human rights law they do not have to go to European courts but can get justice from British courts.
Secondly, it requires all public bodies – not just the central government, but institutions like the police, NHS, and local councils – to abide by these human rights.
Which rights does the Act cover?
The Act covers all the rights included in the European Convention.
These rights are: Right to life, right not to be tortured or subjected to inhumane treatment, right not to be held as a slave, right to liberty and security of the person, right to a fair trial, right not be retrospectively convicted for a crime, right to a private and family life, right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, right to freedom of expression, right to freedom of assembly and association, right to marriage, right to an effective remedy, right not to be discriminated against, the right to the peaceful enjoyment of one’s property, and the right to an education.
The Act also imposes a duty upon governments to provide free and fair elections.
What is the European Convention on Human Rights?
The European Convention on Human Rights is an agreement that all countries in Europe will respect human rights. It was drawn up in 1950 in the aftermath of the Second World War.
The Convention was spearheaded by Britain and the committee that drew up its final draft was chaired by British Conservative MP Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe. The UK was a founding signatory and ratified the Convention in March 1951.
Different countries implement the Convention in different ways. The Human Rights Act is the British way of implementing the convention into domestic law.
Even if countries haven’t implemented the Convention’s rights domestically, citizens can go to the European Court of Human Rights as Strasbourg which can issue judgements to the Convention’s signatory states. All 47 Council of Europe governments have voluntarily agreed to implement the rulings of the court.
Is this something to do with the European Union?
No, the European Convention on Human Rights has nothing to do with the European Union and predates it by decades. Its institutions and courts are completely separate.
Ratification of the convention is a condition of being a member of the European Union, however.
Which countries are members of the European Convention on human Rights?
Every European country except Belarus – Europe’s last military dictatorship – is member of the European Convention on Human Rights.
This includes countries on Europe’s periphery like Turkey and Russia. You do not need to be a member of the European Union to sign the convention.
Why do the Conservatives want to end the Human Rights Act?
The Conservatives say in their manifesto that they want to scrap the Human Rights Act. They would replace it with what they call a “British Bill of Rights”.
They say this new bill will ‘break the formal link between British Courts and the European Court of Human Rights’.
In practice, this would likely mean that people who wanted to bring human right cases under the ECHR would have to go to a court in Strasbourg to be heard.
It would significantly slow down such cases and make them more difficult to bring.
It is also not clear whether such a new Bill of Rights would continue the obligation on public authorities that were not central government to uphold human rights.
Do the Conservatives have any other plans for the ECHR?
The Home Secretary Theresa May has said Britain could leave the ECHR if British courts were not allowed to overrule the decisions of the Strasbourg court, which ultimately decides ECHR cases.
This is unlikely to be compatible with membership of the ECHR which is based upon the court being the ultimate arbiter.
What’s the political background to this?
The ECHR has told the government it can’t do various things – such as deport prisoners to countries where torture is routinely used – because such moves breaches human rights.
The Human Rights Act is also subject to a lot of negative reporting in the right-wing press, with regular inaccurate or partial stories about cases brought under the Act.
The Act is also wrongly associated with the European Union by some of its critics, largely because of poor reporting on the issue.
What does Michael Gove think of human rights?
We don't exactly know yet. In 1998, whilst working at The Times, Michael Gove called for the return of hanging - which is against the ECHR. It's not clear whether he still holds this view privately.
Prominent legal blogger Jack of Kent has said Mr Gove is "highly intelligent" and expressed some optimism about his coming tenure. On the other hand, other prominent lawyers have raised concerns about Mr Gove's record. Teachers are largely glad to be rid of him.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat