James Ekin is a UK staff correspondent for JURIST.
New UK Justice Secretary Brandon Lewis CBE MP has been discussing human rights reform at the annual Conservative Party Conference that kicked off on Sunday in Birmingham.
Speaking to a Policy Exchange forum, he declared that in Britain “we have something very proud of, which is a world-leading legal profession. Legal Services in this country actually are fundamental to everything we do across a wide range of areas.” He reminded his audience that “it was in our 2019 Manifesto that we laid out what we will update in the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.”
Questions about how or whether to reform human rights law continue to be a source of political and legal controversy in the UK. The Government has now withdrawn the Bill of Rights, which was supposed to have replaced the Human Rights Act 1998, which came into force with the purpose of “bringing rights home”. It remains to be seen whether new legislation will be brought forward in its place, and what shape such legislation will take, especially as regards difficult questions relating to immigration and asylum. Possible changes to domestic human rights law are connected to the merits of membership of the European Convention on Human Rights, which remain hotly disputed, not least in light of the European Court of Human Rights’ recent intervention in relation to potential deportation of UK asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Lewis stated that Britain must “remain a champion of collective security, and the rule of law”, adding that “obviously I have a job to protect, as well as human rights, free trade, anti-corruption efforts at the rules-based international system.”
On repealing and changing the 1998 human rights legislation, he said “There is a range of options for us as we go forward to exploring this area of human rights if you want to govern according to our manifesto pledge and remain absolutely true to what we promised to the people who voted for us in 2019. We do need to make sure that we are addressing and dealing with section 2 of the Human Rights Act, the obligation to take into account Strasbourg Court jurisprudence”, adding that “We need to give consideration to a tighter approach that limits creativity whilst encouraging domestic courts to have the ability to diverge from Strasbourg case law more freely, that UK courts have primacy in and for UK law.”
Lewis said that “[T]here are many changes to the human rights framework, but they all need to be considered both by government and [the] wider Parliament.” He reinforced the need “to take forward reform in this area (Human Rights Act), [and] get it right.” He reinforced that this would enable the Government to “deliver the outcome we actually want to achieve. It is important that we ensure that the courts recognise the supremacy in a democratic system of the decisions made by Parliament.”
He followed this by stating he would defend the supremacy of the judiciary and its independence “to the absolute hilt.”