The British government is putting plans for a new law before parliament on Wednesday that would allow it to ignore rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), after the court blocked deportations of migrants to Rwanda last week.
A new UK Bill of Rights will make clear that Britain’s Supreme Court, which had allowed the Rwanda flights, has legal supremacy and ECHR decisions do not always need to be followed by British courts.
The Strasbourg-based court — which has nothing to do with the European Union — grounded a specially chartered plane shortly before it took off from a UK military base on 14 June.
It ruled that the UK judiciary should carry out a detailed review — due in July — of the scheme to allow the controversial deportation to Rwanda of migrants who arrive in the country without permission.
The UK Bill of Rights would replace the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.
The British Ministry of Justice says the aim of the bill is “to strengthen freedom of speech and curb bogus human rights claims”.
Among its measure, it will confirm that ECHR interim measures “such as the one issued last week which prevented the removal flight to Rwanda, are not binding on UK courts”, the ministry’s statement says.
“This Bill of Rights will strengthen our British tradition of freedom while injecting a healthy dose of common sense into the system,” British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said.
The bill would also make it easier to deport foreign nationals who have been convicted in court, limiting their ability to assert their right to family life over public safety.
“These reforms will reinforce freedom of speech, enable us to deport more foreign offenders and better protect the public from dangerous criminals,” Raab added.
Speaking on Wednesday morning, he said the UK would remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. But he told Sky News that it was “legitimate to push back” against ECHR rulings and that the UK parliament should have the last word on the law of the land.
Lawyers and campaigners said however that the plan would erode people’s rights and hand more power to ministers. As it stands, British courts are not bound by ECHR rulings anyway.
Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said it would create an acceptable class of human rights abuses.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said it was unsurprising that politicians held to account by human rights laws wanted them removed. “This is not about tinkering with rights. It’s about removing them,” he commented.
The European Court of Human Rights is the international court of the Council of Europe — a 46-member organisation including the EU’s 27 nations — which was founded after World War II to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The Council of Europe was first suggested in 1943 by Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, as he considered the task of rebuilding and maintaining peace once the fighting stopped.