Lords debates Commission's on a British Bill of Rights

19 June 2013

Members of the House of Lords, including three Commissioners from the Commission on a Bill of Rights, a former Attorney General and a former Justice Minister will debate the Commission’s report, published in December 2012, tomorrow.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill (Liberal Democrat), who tabled and will open the debate, said:

“There are two main reasons to be in favour of a modern constitutional Bill of Rights; a good reason and a bad reason.
“The good reason is that we need a home-grown constitutional measure based on our constitutional and legal heritage that will command widespread public confidence beyond the courts and the legal profession.

“The bad reason is that a home-grown Bill of Rights would enable us to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights and the ability to seek redress from the European Court of Human Rights where our courts are unable to provide a remedy. It would, according to this view, enable the Human Rights Act to be scrapped and replaced by a measure that gave more power to the Executive and Parliament to restrict or limit our civil rights and freedoms.
“The elephant in the chamber is the Strasbourg Court. The European Court and its judges are subject to constant, unfair attacks - personal and political. The English print media attacks, supported by too many MPs who should know better, have included gross and offensive criticism of the distinguished former President of the Strasbourg Court, Sir Nicolas Bratza.
“No doubt in a bid for the support of the media and English nationalist voters, the next Conservative manifesto will promise a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act and the role of the Strasbourg Court. I hope and believe that the British people will reject that proposal when they realise that it would weaken their protection against the misuse of State power. It would certainly be rejected in the Celtic nations of the UK.
“Whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum, the next Government will need to review our constitutional system. The celebration of Magna Charta in 2015 might be the occasion.”

Other Members scheduled to speak include:

  • Lord Bach (Labour), former Justice Minister;
  • Lord Goldsmith (Labour), former Attorney General and Chairman of the Access to Justice foundation;
  • Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws (Labour) and Lord Faulks (Conservative), members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights; and
  • Lord Judd (Labour), member of the advisory board of the London School of Economics Centre for Human Rights.

Lord Woolf (Crossbench), Lord Maclennan of Rogart (Liberal Democrat), Lord Gold (Conservative) and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (Crossbench) are also expected to take part in the debate.

Lord McNally (Liberal Democrat) will respond on behalf of the Government.

The debate will be webcast at www.parliamentlive.tv and is also open to the public. Journalists wishing to attend should go to Parliament’s Cromwell Green Entrance and should allow time for security screening.

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