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Tories threaten to scrap Human Rights Act and replace it with 'British Bill of Rights'

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling threatens to scrap the Human Rights Act. Credit: PA

A Conservative government would deliver an ultimatum to European judges that Britain must be allowed to flout their human rights rulings - or it would quit the system.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the "mission creep" by the Strasbourg courts had become intolerable and it would have to accept becoming an "advisory" body.

Mr Grayling fleshed out the Conservative position after David Cameron told the party's conference that he would no longer put up with meddling on issues such as whether prisoners should be able to vote.

Under the proposals, the Human Rights Act introduced by Labour in 1998 to enshrine the European Convention on Human Rights in domestic law would be scrapped.

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 UK judges were not obliged to take European Court of Human Rights' rulings into account when coming to decisions.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Credit: DPA

The legislation would declare that the British Supreme Court was the "ultimate arbiter" on whether rights were being respected.

It would also state that human rights laws could not be used in "trivial" cases, and remove barriers to deporting people who posed a threat to national security, according to Mr Grayling.

We can no longer tolerate this mission creep.

What we have effectively got is a legal blank cheque, where the court can go where it chooses to go.

We will put in place a provision that will say that the rulings of Strasbourg will not have legal effect in the UK without the consent of parliament.

Effectively what we are doing is turning Strasbourg into an advisory body.

– Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary

Mr Grayling said if it came to it the UK would stay within international law by withdrawing from the convention "in parallel with the introduction of the new Bill".

He dismissed concerns - shared by some Tories including former attorney general Dominic Grieve - that leaving the convention would be highly damaging to the UK's reputation.

He said he "did not buy" the idea that Britain would put itself in line with Belarus if it left the convention.

"We are and we will continue to be world leaders in the way we manage human rights and the way we deal with human rights," he added.

Sadiq Khan said scrapping the Human Rights Act would put Britain on a par with the dictatorship in Belarus. Credit: Empics

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan said there were "so many contradictions, inaccuracies and myths" in the proposal, it could only have been "cobbled together on the back of an envelope".

The Labour MP went on:

Once again, David Cameron is pandering to Ukip instead of standing up for the rights and best interests of the people of Britain.

The truth is that our courts have been free to interpret rulings by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for 50 years - the Human Rights Act did nothing to change that fact.

The European Court of Human Rights does need reform, which is why Labour has called for Strasbourg to do more to improve the quality of its judges and apply 'the margin of appreciation', giving member states the wriggle room to interpret decisions appropriately.

But leaving the ECHR, which the Tories appear to be proposing, would be a disaster for this country - putting Britain in the same bracket as Belarus, Europe's last remaining dictatorship.

– Sadiq Khan, Shadow justice secretary

Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty, said:

So finally the cards are on the table - and what a hand has been played.

As legally illiterate as politically provocative, this plan would gamble with our fragile Union and put us in breach of international law.

This so-called British Bill of Rights would diminish everyone's freedoms and make Government even less accountable in the future.

– Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty

Sean Humber, head of the human rights team at law firm Leigh Day, said:

By abolishing the Act and replacing it with some watered-down inferior imitation, the Conservatives would make it much harder for victims to enforce their human rights as they would then need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

What is so wrong with wanting to live in a country where you have internationally recognised basic and fundamental rights by virtue of your existence as a human being that can be upheld by an independent judiciary and which an over-zealous state cannot take away?

Is this not a concept that Conservatives hold dear?

– Seab Humber, human rights lawyer

Tim Hancock, campaigns director of Amnesty UK, said:

These proposals are nasty, spiteful and shameful. This is electioneering on the backs of Europe's most vulnerable.

Under these plans human rights would be reserved for only those people the Government decides should get them. This is a blueprint for human rights you would expect from a country like Belarus.

We should all be worried when politicians try to set themselves above the law.

It's a complete disgrace to see the government blackmail the Council of Europe.

– Tim Hancock, Amnesty UK