U.S. Markets open in 5 hrs 23 mins

UK Unveils Bill Giving Its Courts Ultimate Say on Human Rights

·2 min read

(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson’s government defended its plan to allow UK courts to ignore rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, as groups including The Law Society warned the new law will damage basic protections.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The Bill of Rights will give the UK Supreme Court the ultimate say over human rights issues, making it clear that ECHR case law does not always need to be followed by the British judiciary, the Ministry of Justice said. It comes just days after the ECHR thwarted the UK’s flagship immigration policy by preventing Britain from deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda.

“We will strengthen the separation of powers in this country, affirming the supremacy of the Supreme Court, being explicit that the UK courts are under no obligation to follow the Strasbourg case law and indeed are free to diverge from it,” Justice Secretary Dominic Raab told Parliament on Wednesday.

The legislation -- which was promised last month in the Queen’s Speech setting out the legislative agenda for the current parliamentary session -- will go some way to pacifying Tory Members of Parliament who attacked the ECHR following last week’s ruling, which stopped a planned deportation flight from taking off when the plane was already on the tarmac.

But human rights groups and opposition parties say the bill will take away rights enshrined in the Human Rights Act, legislation passed in 1998 by former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Labour government. The opposition party’s justice spokesman Steve Reed accused ministers of trying to sow division.

The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, said this bill represents a “lurch backwards” for the British justice system.

“The bill will create an acceptable class of human rights abuses in the United Kingdom – by introducing a bar on claims deemed not to cause ‘significant disadvantage’,” said Stephanie Boyce, the group’s president.

According to the government, the bill will also:

  • Give greater weight in law to freedom of speech and the views of elected lawmakers

  • Include provisions to prevent “trivial” legal claims that waste taxpayers’ money

  • Allow for future laws that “make it harder for foreign criminals to frustrate deportation process” by citing their right to a family life

  • Introduce a principle that responsibilities to society are as important as personal rights

“Under the government’s plans, it will become much harder for people -- including disabled people and survivors of violence against women and girls -- to access justice,” said Martha Spurrier, director at human rights advocacy group Liberty. The government “is now planning to rip up the basic rights and protections we all rely on to make themselves untouchable.”

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.