United Kingdom

Tory rights shake-up plans slammed

Tory rights shake-up plans slammed

Press Association
Former Tory attorney-general Dominic Grieve© Lewis Whyld – PA Wire Former Tory attorney-general Dominic Grieve Tory plans to strip European judges of their power to enforce human rights in the UK have been condemned by the party’s own former attorney general.Dominic Grieve QC said the proposals produced by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling contained a series of factual “howlers” and were not properly thought through.Under the blueprint, a future Conservative government would effectively issue an ultimatum to Strasbourg that it must accept being merely an “advisory body” – or Britain would withdraw from the system altogether.

The party would scrap the Human Rights Act introduced by Labour in 1998 to enshrine the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic law.

Instead there would be a Bill of Rights, which would include the principles from the convention – originally drawn up by British lawyers after the Second World War.

But it would also make clear that the Supreme Court UK judges were not obliged to take European Court of Human Rights’ rulings into account when coming to decisions.

Mr Grayling said if the ECHR and the Council of Europe refused to accept the new arrangements, Britain would simply leave the convention. It was no longer sustainable to write European judges a “legal blank cheque” in the wake of rulings such as that demanding prisoners be given the vote, he argued.

However, Mr Grieve said many of the concerns were based on “misunderstandings”, and there were already moves in train to reform the court from within. He also dismissed the idea that the UK could be granted a special status while the other states signed up to the convention had to abide by Strasbourg rulings.

“All courts are ultimately human constructs and they will sometimes get things right and sometimes get things wrong,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“In many cases there is a misunderstanding of what the court does.

“Even the paper which has just been produced by my colleague Chris Grayling includes in it a number of howlers which are simply factually inaccurate.

“One howler is … where it says that the court of HR in Strasbourg has prevented the imposition of whole life tariffs on whole life tariff prisoners in this country.

“It hasn’t. Its judgment never said that.

“On top of that we then took a case to the court of appeal, which I actually chose to take when I was AG, which found that our rules are completely compliant with what the court wants.

“Yet there it is in the paper which he has put out on behalf of the Conservative Party.”

Mr Grieve added: “I t seems to me it is factually inaccurate in what it says, and that is unfortunate.

“Because if one is going to approach a complex subject I think it is very important that we should all collectively adopt a moderate and measured approach towards explaining what the issues are and what can and cannot be done.”

Mr Grieve said Mr Grayling did not seem to have considered the problems presented by devolution in Scotland and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

“Both of them enshrine the requirement that the convention on human rights should be observed in Scotland and in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I think it is right to say that, in the case of Northern Ireland, it is a requirement that ultimately people in NI can take cases to the ECHR.

“And yet Chris Grayling has just written a paper which makes no reference to this issue or how it can be solved.

“Of course the Westminster Parliament is sovereign, we could change the law for Northern Ireland and Scotland.

“But I think that, in view of the way devolution has unfolded, that is something that would be a little bit difficult without consultation and I’m not aware that any consultation has taken place.”

Mr Grieve went on: “We have always been at the heart of developing human rights on the world stage. We have very high status worldwide in doing that and it is an inestimable benefit to large numbers people.

“The paper gives the impression of a retrenchment down to a very narrow focus indeed.

“The final irony is that, when we’ve done all these things and ended up with our own bill of human rights, 99% of the decisions that will be taken by our own Supreme Court applying it, unless it wishes to get rid of human rights, would in fact be identical to those that you would get in Strasbourg.”

However, Mr Grayling rejected the criticisms, pointing out that he had a longstanding disagreement on the issue with Mr Grieve – who was sacked in David Cameron’s last reshuffle.

He insisted the current Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, believed the plans were “fine, viable and legal”.

Mr Grayling also stressed that he had consulted a range of QCs and other experts before producing the paper – denying it had been “rushed out” after the Prime Minister made a crowd-pleasing pledge at this week’s party conference.


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