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Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve warns human rights reform risks 'new areas of political discord'

Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve warns human rights reform risks 'new areas of political discord'

UK Government plans to overhaul human rights law “opens up the prospect of new areas of political discord”, the former Attorney General for England and Wales has warned.

Dominic Grieve – the Government’s most senior legal adviser between 2010 and 2014 – said UK non-compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) “calls into question” the devolution settlements for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, hinting it could bolster calls for independence.

The Conservative MP was speaking ahead of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warning it is “inconceivable” that Holyrood would grant legislative consent for the Human Rights Act (HRA) to be repealed or amended.

The Conservatives pledged to replace the Act with a British Bill of Rights in their election manifesto. The HRA incorporates the protections in the European Convention into UK law.

A Conservative Party paper published last October suggested judgments to emerge from the European Court of Human Rights would be treated as “advisory” instead of binding in UK law. The paper also raised the prospect of withdrawal from the Convention if the UK Parliament failed to secure the right to veto judgments from the Strasbourg court.
Delivering a Faculty of Advocates lecture in Edinburgh earlier this week, Grieve said that European Convention remains “arguably the single most important legal and political instrument for promoting human rights on our planet”.

Non-compliance would “offer an example and an invitation for it to be ignored by others”, he claimed.

"Domestically, non-compliance with the Convention calls into question the devolution settlements for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which enshrine Convention rights as governing all their actions," said the Tory MP. 

“Parliament at Westminster could of course legislate to change the position, but there is overwhelming evidence that this would be against the will of the devolved administrations.

“In the case of Northern Ireland, it is also part of an international treaty involving Ireland. At a time when the peace settlement in Northern Ireland is still fragile and the future of the United Kingdom itself is in question, it opens up the prospect of new areas of political discord.

“While I appreciate that there may be some, including of course in this audience, who might welcome this as hastening their domestic political goals, I find this a very odd thing for a government committed to the Union to do.”

In a Q&A following his speech, Grieve claimed there had been a “certain amount of rowing back” by the Conservative Party since reform was first mooted last October.

Private polling conducted by the Tories ahead of the General Election suggested reform of human rights and the scrapping of the Human Rights Act was low down on the list of voters’ priorities, he claimed.

Grieve said: “I think at the moment the Government would have very great difficulty enacting the proposals it set out in the past and getting them through parliament - that’s the House of Commons, leave the House of Lords out of it.

“I have my doubts that there is a majority for it and I think there are enough Conservatives who are sufficiently concerned about this who would not wish to see our position in the Council of Europe in danger.”

Earlier today, the First Minister - joined by Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti in Glasgow - said any move to repeal the Human Rights Act would be a “monumental mistake”.

“Responsibility for the Human Rights Act rests solely with the Westminster parliament, but European Convention rights are embedded into the devolution settlement and human rights itself is a devolved issue," said Sturgeon.

“That means that any attempt to repeal or amend the Human Rights Act is likely to require the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament. 

“It is inconceivable – given the breadth of the support which the Human Rights Act commands across the Scottish Parliament – that such consent would be granted. The Scottish Government will certainly advocate that it is not granted.

“The Scottish Government will also oppose any weakening of human rights protections – not just in Scotland, but across the whole of the UK. Human rights, after all, are not English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish rights. They are universal rights.”

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