The word on the street has it that Liz Truss, the newly anointed Secretary of State for Justice and the Lord High Chancellor, has been advised to breathe new life into devising a Bill of Rights. She told anybody who was listening that it was a manifesto pledge, as if that counted for anything, so it’s back on her agenda. Question for you all – how many of you voted Conservative at the last General Election because a Bill of Rights was a manifesto pledge? Yes, I thought so.
Others have flirted with the idea, most recently Oiky Gove, but then, with the whiff of high office in his nostrils, albeit fleetingly, he fell flat on his face and he and the Bill of Rights bit the dust.
The latest thinking along the corridors of power is that a new Bill of Rights should be a mirror image of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into British law in 1997 with the Human Rights Act. The reasoning behind this decision, if ‘reasoning’ is not an over-statement, is that Parliament would not agree to do otherwise. Call me naive if you will, but doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of a new Bill of Rights? If we are lumbered with a Convention on Human Rights devised by Germany and France to ensure they never went to war again, then by retaining the Human Rights Act, we are burnishing our European credentials just when we thought we had dumped them for good. All very confusing, the more so for Liz Truss, who has no legal training, doesn’t know her mens rea from her actus reus, and who will be relying entirely on her civil servants. ‘Yes Minister’ strikes again!
When she appeared recently before the Commons Justice Select Committee, she was asked bluntly by one of its members what the point was of scrapping the Human Rights Act but staying signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights. Truss replied: “We were members of the convention long before the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act is a fairly recent phenomenon. What the British Bill of Rights will do is protect our rights but in a better way.” But surely, Ms Truss, the Human Rights Act enacted the European Convention into English law, the two go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other, so if you abolish the Human Rights Act, where does that leave the Convention? Her enigmatic reply? “There are big problems with the Human Rights Act that are nothing to do with the convention – problems have only emerged since the Human Rights Act came in. We are still working on it and I don’t have details about the proposal.” Quite so. If for one am none the wiser.
For some time now, judges at the highest levels of the judiciary have argued that the Convention should be acknowledged where it is helpful to do so, and that the decisions of the European Courts should be duly noted, but they should not be binding on English Law. In this way, our Supreme Court is what it actually claims to be, namely Supreme, so if our Supreme Court does not agree with its European counterparts, it will not follow its judgments, and will say so.
I may not agree with everything the Supreme Court has to say, and in this regard, I remember their pathetic judgement in the banks’ overcharging case, but that said they get it right most of the time, and if they don’t, we can set the Daily Mail on them, and if that doesn’t work, there is always the robust presence of Lord Falkner to put the fear of God into them.
There are many other more pressing matters in her in-tray to occupy Ms. Truss, whose learning curve is almost vertiginous. Prison reform should be her first priority before there is a serious breakdown of law and order. Then there’s the equally ludicrous inquiry into historical sexual abuse, but don’t get me started. That’s worth a blog to itself.
This blog is dedicated to Alexa, the beautiful daughter of our very dear friends, who recently got married. I wish her and her husband Paul every future happiness.