Human Rights: Bill Leaves Unanswered Questions

Article excerpt

Publication of the much-awaited Bill to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law delighted most observers yesterday. Only the Tories appeared unhappy. But as Michael Streeter explains, the Bill raises some intriguing, and so far unanswered, questions.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, was in an understandably bullish mood yesterday as he published the White Paper and accompanying Bill which will incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.

"Today is an historic day in terms of the rights of the British people," he said. "It is the first time since 1689 that there will have been a British Bill of Rights." The mood among some human-rights groups, who had feared that the Government might produce a very weak incorporation of the Convention, was almost equally good. "It's brilliant," said one. "They've addressed nearly all of our points." The Human Rights Bill, though it provides no new rights for individuals, does mean they will be able to avoid what Mr Straw calls the "long hard road" to the court in Strasbourg. Instead, litigants will be able to use British courts and British judges interpreting the Convention to hear their grievances, though the French- based court will remain as last port of call. There has been much debate about whether the Government would adopt the Canadian or New Zealand models of human rights incorporation, the former being regarded as tougher than the second. In fact, Mr Straw has produced a "British" solution, which addresses criticism from some quarters that incorporation interferes with the sovereignty of Parliament. …