Human rights matter. I know from my own practice as a lawyer that it is essential for justice and the rule of law that there is a counterbalance to the power of the State, and a protection against the risk of overreach. I also believe that our country should continue to be a beacon of humanity, as well as a loud defender of the security and dignity of the individual.
In considering the Bill of Rights, it is important to get two things absolutely clear at the outset. First, under these measures the United Kingdom will remain in the European Convention on Human Rights. Second, in the event of successful litigation against the United Kingdom by an individual in the Strasbourg court, the UK will uphold and give effect to the judgment.
I strongly welcome the decision to remain in the ECHR. It was after all, a British lawyer (and Conservative MP incidentally) who played a decisive role in drafting the Convention in the post-War period. I am proud to support our membership of that Convention, which prohibits inter alia torture, inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3) and safeguards the right to a fair trial (Article 6). I welcome it as someone who as a barrister has acted pro bono for a prisoner of conscience arbitrarily detained by the Iranian regime in the notorious Evin prison.
The Bill of Rights Bill will introduce a stronger test for courts to consider before they can order journalists to disclose their sources. Second, it will also recognise that trial by jury is a fundamental element of fair trials in the UK.
It will introduce a permission stage in court requiring people to show they have suffered a significant disadvantage before their claim can go ahead, thereby preventing trivial legal claims that waste taxpayers’ money. Permission stages exist in other areas of the law – for example, a person convicted of a crime in the Crown Court needs to seek leave to appeal from a High Court judge before his or her appeal can be heard. The same is true of judicial review.
The Bill will prevent misuse of human rights to frustrate the deportation of criminals, ensuring those who pose a serious threat can be deported by allowing future laws to restrict the circumstances in which their right to family life would trump public safety and the need to remove them. The Bill will reinforce in law the principle that responsibilities to society are as important as personal rights. To achieve this, courts will consider a claimant’s relevant conduct, such as a prisoner’s violent or criminal behaviour, when awarding damages.
The Bill will make clear that the UK Supreme Court is the ultimate judicial decision-maker on human rights issues. This does not of course mean that the case law of the European Court of Human Rights cannot be considered and followed by UK courts. It can. British judges will have total freedom to give ECHR jurisprudence as much weight on the facts before them as they see fit.