The debate about the Conservative Party’s proposal for a new British Bill of Rights and is likely to be one of the the most legally interesting aspects of the long 2001 election campaign.  We did a feature on this in November 2009 and updated it here.   The debate has, so far, concentrated on the position in England.  However, at the UKSC Blog we are very conscious of the fact that our Supreme Court stands at the apex of the legal system of the whole United Kingdom.

The debate has now been given a proper “United Kingdom” dimension by a new report from JUSTICE entitled “Devolution and Human Rights”.  This makes the point that the Human Rights Act and the devolution statutes formed part of a broader constitutional shift in the late 1990s, and that they are now legally and constitutionally intertwined with the result that any move to repeal the Human Rights Act would have serious consequences for the devolved jurisdictions.  The JUSTICE press release is here

Alan Trench’s thoughtful “Devolution Matters” blog discusses the report here.  He points out that Wales has simply been “left out of the debate (and the JUSTICE paper) – an error that appears to derive from Wales’s inclusion in the single legal jurisdiction of England and Wales, which disregards the constitutional prerogatives of the National Assembly”.

The JUSTICE report received extensive coverage in the “Guardian”.  Afua Hirsch’s piece was entitled “Scotland and N Ireland could reject bill of rights” and quotes our contributor Aidan O’Neill QC saying that “It’s opening a whole can of worms reassessing what the United Kingdom is.”  The issue is also discussed on the Liberty Central Blog, under the headline “Hating the Human Rights Act an English phenomenon”.

An important aspect to the “bill of rights” debate is the commitments in the Good Friday Agreement to establish a specific human rights regime for Northern Ireland, recognising its distinctiveness is presently the subject of a consultation by the Northern Ireland Office.   This proposal itself continues to be controversial with Professor Chris McCrudden warning this week that it may involve “turning the clock back” on equality standards.

The English dimension also continues to the be the subject of lively discussion.  We have previously mentioned the Guardian’s “Liberty Central Blog’s” series “Blogging the Bill of Rights“.  There are two new pieces by Francesca Klug.  The first “Human Rights don’t belong to political parties” points out that the Human Rights Act has, historically, not been the property of the left or the right but has, at different times, been the policy of all the major political parties.  The second article, “Human Rights … for some” looks at the Binyam Mohammed case from the perspective of the Human Rights Act.

Finally, the website of the Henry Jackson Society – which includes leading Conservative politicians among its supporters – has a piece by Amanda Grey under the headline “A Fresh look at the Human Rights Act” in which she reaches the realistic conclusion

“despite all the negative publicity the Human Rights Act is here to stay. The government’s continued membership of, and participation in, the Council of Europe is accepted by all the main UK political parties while the present government continues to reassert its commitment to the Human Rights Act, despite pressure from the main opposition party and within the government itself. Not only has the UK an obligation to honour its ratification of the European Convention of Human Rights, rights domesticated within the Human Rights Act, the British government was at the forefront of the drafting of the Convention in 1950 and has a moral obligation to uphold its values”.

It remains to be seen how a future Conservative Government will deal with these issues and we are reminded of Joshua Rozenberg’s realistic estimate, last November that it would “take the best part of five years” to bring new legislation into force.