30 March 2010

Update: SHRC & NIHRC "to defend Human Rights Act"

On the 17th of March, I brought it to your attention that the Scottish Human Rights Commission, chaired by Professor Alan Miller, had come out in support of the Human Rights Act 1998 (surprise, surprise) and against perhaps the most fatuous plank of the ramshackle Tory platform - repealing the Act and replacing it with some sort of "British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities". The whole text of the Commission's statement can be found in my previous post. In a further development, no doubt brought about by Miller scheming away behind the scenery - today the Scottish Commission has been joined by the Northern Irish Human Rights Commission, issuing a joint statement that argues in the name of internationalism and the minimum standards of European human rights law, for the retention of the 1998 Act and against the Tory proposals.

Interestingly, this regional institutional insurrection was a possibility broadly considered in the Justice report on "Devolution and Human Rights", which I've also mentioned before. The possibility of a divergent, devolutionary politics and political approach towards the Human Rights Act was also picked up in this article in the Guardian, with a quote of two from Kenny MacAskill. I'm certainly not suggesting that we should mistake these bodies for the whole corpus and extent of Scottish and Northern Irish opinion, nor that we should accept the Guardian's thesis too readily. After all, we can probably expect the other relevant, UK commissions to take a similar line. That said, these devolved institutional supports may well become important if the freshly convoked Westminster parliament is hung, or for that matter if the Tories whisker into office, with only a clutch of Scottish seats (as is pretty much inevitable). In that position, anticipate Holyrood debates on any proposed abolition of the Human Rights to conclude with fierce, thumping majorities against the Tory proposals. Just the sort of political ugliness and historically resonant "little local difficult" which the slapped-arse baby-face Conservative government, wobbling on its pins like a rum-sodden sailor, could do without. Here is their full statement:

Commissions defend the Human Rights Act

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) have today (30 March 2010) issued a joint statement in support of retaining and building upon the Human Rights Act 1998. The statement has been released to inform public debate ahead of the UK General Election of the risks inherent in proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a UK Bill of Rights.

Professor Monica McWilliams, Chief Commissioner of the NIHRC said:

“Protecting the Human Rights Act is an issue of huge importance. Nowhere in the world has the repeal of existing human rights protections been a starting point for discussing a proposed Bill of Rights. It must not be the starting point for a debate in the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland and Scottish Commissions are agreed that progressively building upon the foundation provided by the Human Rights Act is the only acceptable basis upon which to have a debate.”

Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the SHRC, said:

“Any government of the United Kingdom should uphold and defend the highest standards of international human rights obligations and not seek to reduce their influence in any way. The Human Rights Act in combination with the Scotland Act is an important pillar of devolution for Scotland. Rather than needing to be repealed it needs to be progressively built upon in Scotland.”

The joint statement reads:

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission agree that the UK Human Rights Act 1998 should be ring fenced and built upon as part of further progress in the promotion and protection of human rights within and across all jurisdictions including devolved, excepted and reserved areas.

2. Both Commissions agree that any process towards establishing a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, or other similar statute, for the UK or any of its constituent parts, which seeks to repeal the UK Human Rights Act 1998 in part or whole would be retrogressive in terms of the promotion and protection of human rights. Both Commissions agree that they will oppose any such process.

3. Both Commissions agree that the above positions are consistent with adherence to the UN Paris Principles and the responsibilities and mandates of both national human rights institutions.

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