Human Rights: All things to All People

So, now we know what the coalition government is going to do about human rights.

We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.

Any the wiser? This commitment in the coalition programme is clearly an attempt to combine two inconsistent manifesto commitments. The Conservatives had had promised to “replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights” while the Liberal Democrats said they would “ensure that everyone has the same protections under the law by protecting the Human Rights Act”.

But the new commitment promises no changes at all. All we are to get is a “commission”. This is not, of course, a Royal Commission – which carries with it certain powers and a general approach of seriousness. It is not an independent public inquiry. It is, one presumes, merely a rather grander-sounding committee of civil servants and worthies who are bound not to agree on anything except the blandest of proposals.

That view is reinforced by the final aspiration: “we will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties”. That sounds like an advertising campaign.

So nothing much will happen. But that is not, in itself, a bad thing. As I made clear here last year, I never thought that things would change very much under the Tories, despite the impression they tried to give the voters.

What the government needs to do is to leave the Human Rights Act alone. Sure, explain to people how it works. But don’t talk it down or interfere with it.

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