The knives have been out for the Human Rights Act – and perhaps the UK’s involvement in the European Convention on Human Rights itself – at the Conservative Party conference today. Here is an excerpt from the speech made by Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary:
European Human Rights laws were written by Conservatives in the 1950s as a response to Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. They had seen the Holocaust and the gulags. And they said ‘never again’. For those Conservatives, never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined it would end up where it has; twisted by political correctness … with the all too familiar yob’s catchphrase ‘I know my rights’ … rulings that make our judges doubt they can say to the most heinous of murderers ‘you’re going to prison for the rest of your life’.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am determined that must change. For me no change is not an option. One small problem. We are the only major party committed to radical reform of human rights laws. Labour are opposed. The Liberal Democrats are opposed. I don’t know why. It’s blindingly obvious the public want change. I simply don’t believe that the majority of the people in this country think that human rights laws are fine as they are.
I would change things now – but we do not have the votes in Parliament. So I want to make a commitment to you today. We will go into the next election with a clear plan for change. In the New Year the Conservatives will publish a document setting out what we will do, when we will do it, and how we will do it. And then later in the year we will publish a draft Bill which will set out in legal detail exactly how our changes will take effect.
We will scrap Labour’s Human Rights Act. We will make sure that with legal rights go legal responsibilities. Our Supreme Court should be in Britain and not in Strasbourg. And a future Conservative Government will do whatever it takes to make sure it is.
Meanwhile, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, had this to say:
… the next Conservative manifesto will promise to scrap the Human Rights Act. It’s why Chris Grayling is leading a review of our relationship with the European Court. And it’s why the Conservative position is clear – if leaving the European Convention is what it takes to fix our human rights laws, that is what we should do.
Those are issues for the general election, when Labour and the Lib Dems will have to explain why they value the rights of terrorists and criminals more than the rights of the rest of us. In the meantime, we need to do all we can now to limit the damage. The Government will soon publish the Immigration Bill, which will make it easier to get rid of people with no right to be here.
First, we’re going to cut the number of appeal rights. At the moment, the system is like a never-ending game of snakes and ladders, with almost 70,000 appeals heard every year. The winners are foreign criminals and immigration lawyers – while the losers are the victims of these crimes and the public. So we’re going to cut the number of appeal rights from seventeen to four, and in doing so cut the total number of appeals by more than half.
Last year, human rights were cited in almost 10,000 immigration appeal cases. So the second thing we will do is extend the number of non-suspensive appeals. This means that where there is no risk of serious and irreversible harm, we should deport foreign criminals first and hear their appeal later.
And third, the Immigration Bill will sort out the abuse of Article Eight – the right to a family life – once and for all. This is used by thousands of people to stay in Britain every year. The trouble is, while the European Convention makes clear that a right to a family life is not absolute, judges often treat it as an unqualified right.
That’s why I published new Immigration Rules stating that foreign criminals and illegal immigrants should ordinarily be deported despite their claim to a family life. Those Rules were debated in the House of Commons, and they were approved unanimously. But some judges chose to ignore Parliament and go on putting the law on the side of foreign criminals instead of the public. So I am sending a very clear message to those judges – Parliament wants the law on the people’s side, the public wants the law on the people’s side, and Conservatives in government will put the law on the people’s side once and for all.
I wrote earlier this year about the proposal to deal with the perceived problem concerning Article 8 by means of primary legislation. That post can be found here.