The British Bill of Rights is expected to be revived under the government’s strategy to deal with the crisis of migrant small boats crossing the English Channel. Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said the legislation – giving the UK courts supremacy over the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) – will return to Parliament “in the coming weeks”. When it was introduced under then-PM Boris Johnson, ministers said it would prevent judges in the Strasbourg court from interfering in the government’s controversial policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda to have their claims processed.
However, it was shelved by Liz Truss when she became prime minister in September after government sources warned it was “unlikely to progress in its current form”.
But Mr Raab, who had championed the legislation before he was sacked by Ms Truss, said its return would “reinject a healthy dose of common sense to the system and end abuse of our laws”. The move comes as ministers are under intense pressure to deal with the migrant crisis following the disclosure of dangerously overcrowded conditions at a processing centre at Manston in Kent. They hope the prospect of deportation to the east African state will deter migrants from making the dangerous Channel crossing. However, they have so far been frustrated after an interim ruling by a judge in Strasbourg in June blocked the first deportation flights and they are now waiting for the UK courts to rule on whether the policy is legal.
The Bill of Rights is unlikely to provide a quick fix as it is also highly controversial and the government is likely to face a tough battle – particularly in the House of Lords – to get it onto the statute book. In a statement, Mr Raab said: “It builds on the UK’s proud tradition of liberty by strengthening freedom of speech, reinjecting a healthy dose of common sense to the system and ending abuse of our laws. “It will put an end to the mission creep of continuously expanding human rights laws, and re-establish proper democratic oversight from Parliament. “It will make crystal clear that the UK Supreme Court is not subordinate to the European Court of Human Rights.”
The legislation was aimed at ensuring that domestic courts do not always need to follow case law from the ECHR in Strasbourg and that the Supreme Court in London is the ultimate decision-maker on human rights issues.
Critics of the Bill included the Law Society, who claimed it represented a “lurch backwards for British justice which would disempower people in Britain while giving the state more unfettered authority”.
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know