The Bill of Rights Commission Report reflects the muddled Tory stance on Europe

Pushing through this new legislation will be costly, contentious and ultimately a waste of time

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The Independent Online

The majority report reflects the muddled and superficial thinking at the heart of the Conservative party on the issue of Europe. We already have a British Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act has been interpreted and applied by British judges in a balanced and intelligent way that reflects British legal traditions, and the judgments of our Supreme Court now exert a powerful influence over the Court in Strasbourg precisely because they are interpreting the same set of rights, but with a distinctively British character. To embark on an ill thought through process of altering the language and content of our human rights legislation at this time is irresponsible madness. It is just a continuation of the mischief-making that David Cameron has encouraged among his less well-informed back-benchers.

Pushing through new legislation at this time will be hugely contentious and fiercely opposed by all those concerned with the administration of justice, including the majority of the senior judiciary. It will ultimately costs hundreds of millions in re-training, and entirely unnecessary litigation on the meaning of the new legislation.

I was personally responsible for devising and delivering compulsory training for the judiciary and the Bar when the Human Rights Act came into force. It took two full years to deliver. During that time all public authorities had to review their decision-making from top to bottom, at great public expense. If these proposals are taken seriously, all that will have to happen again. At a time when the Government is forcing through cuts in legal aid for ordinary people on low incomes, and driving an austerity agenda on public spending generally, I shudder to think of the number of hospitals and schools that could be built and funded with the money that would be spent on these pointless reforms.

If implemented - and I hope they never will be - they will result in more cases going to Strasbourg rather than less. It is absurd to suggest that any British government could ever pull out of the Council of Europe, and Ministers know this. Far from creating "public ownership" these lazy and sloppy proposals will result in more significant decisions being taken in Strasbourg than at present. With the exception of Lord Lester, none of the majority has any recognised competence in human rights law. It is like allowing the editors of the Daily Mail and the Sun to draft our constitution.

The reason for public hostility to the Human Rights Act is not because British people lack ownership. It is an Act of the British Parliament after all. The real reason is because Conservative politicians, including the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary and the Prime Minister have deliberately mobilised hostility to the Act for nakedly political reasons. They have behaved with staggering irresponsibility in threading to openly flout judicial rulings that are binding on the United Kingdom. And they have done all this because they want to attack the Labour Party for enacting this legislation 14 years ago. The present report is just the next step in that process.

Ed Miliband and Sadiq Khan should stand firm and defend the Human Rights Act which was one of Labour's greatest achievements, second only to the creation of free public health and education. The Human Rights Act protects the vulnerable in our society and gives judges the tools they need to hold irresponsible Ministers to account. That is a very British tradition.

The only parts of the report worth reading are the minority sections reflecting the views of Baroness Kennedy and Professor Sands, both of whom know a thing or two about human rights. The rest is nonsense. The Labour Party should defend it's achievement, and the majority of the judges and the legal profession will stand with them. So too should ordinary British voters because it is their rights that are being put at stake here.