The proposal to abolish the Human Rights Act 1998 (‘HRA’) and replace it with a British Bill of Rights has been simmering on the back burner for some time now. It was proposed during Chris Grayling’s tenancy as Justice Secretary (particular proposals which Dinah Rose QC referred to as “just so rubbish” and “so stupid”) and re-emerged in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election. David Cameron’s promise to have a draft Bill of Rights within 100 days of his new government ultimately went unfulfilled however.
Nichola Sturgeon has been using abolition of the HRA as a political tool to apply pressure on David Cameron’s government:
“Repealing the Human Rights Act meets no pressing need, and addresses no obvious problem. There is instead a clear risk that it will create legal confusion, harm people in the UK who need support and protection, and give comfort to illiberal governments around the world”
The SNP’s Alex Neil, social justice secretary, previously expressed the SNP’s position that it would not consent to the “implementation of the Conservative government’s proposals”.
The complication brought about by devolution, and the Sewel convention which prescribes that the UK government will not legislate with regard to devolved matters without consent of Scottish Parliament, has not gone unnoticed by commentators (Joshua Rosenberg, Prof Mark Elliott, Matthew Scott).
No doubt a wrong move from Cameron on this issue would play right into the hands of the SNP and open up the prospect of a second referendum on Scottish independence. When considering the effect of imposing legislation upon a non-consenting nation within the Union, one should be mindful of the aftermath of imposing conscription in Ireland in 1918 (attached to a Home Rule Bill which was voted through Parliament). Nationalist parties can use the perceived coercion as a means of demonstrating the apathy of Westminster towards the country concerned and impress upon the populace that the only route to true political accountability is through secession.
So perhaps those wishing for a British Bill of Rights should countenance the prospect of a Britain divided by it.