Tory plans will destroy human rights across Europe, warns Dominic Grieve

Conservative MP says the government’s plan to leave Strasbourg court threatens to make the European convention on human rights inoperable

It will be impossible to enforce human rights across Europe if the Conservative party carries out its threat to withdraw from the Strasbourg court, the former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC has warned.

In a stark illustration of the dangers in unravelling 60 years of law and order, the Conservative MP for Beaconsfield said the European court of human rights (ECHR) may not be perfect but had nonetheless been a success.

Addressing a Franco-British Council conference at Lancaster House in central London, Grieve told the audience of judges, diplomats and academics that: “Our [Conservative party] intent, if pursued, threatens to make the [European Convention on human rights] inoperable.

“In order for [the convention] to work, it is dependent on peer group pressure. If the UK will not observe and promote its terms, why should other member states? However imperfect the convention may be, the success of the Strasbourg court in promoting human rights is undoubted. Even our tabloid press will occasionally take interest in the state of Russian police stations or Romanian orphanages.”

The Conservatives’ proposed bill of rights would have to contain the convention to sustain legal requirements in devolved assemblies, he said, and therefore lead to “very small improvements” and on occasions to “frustrations for our government” when UK judges make rulings unwelcome to Downing Street.

Grieve, who was removed from office last year because of his opposition to party policy on scrapping the Human Rights Act, acknowledged that fears over the Strasbourg court’s influence dated back to its creation.

“The development of the convention in 1950 shows there was unease in official circles,” he said. According to recently released official papers, he said, some suspected it would invite “communist crooks and cranks to bring every type of action”.

Those calling for withdrawal from the Strasbourg court’s jurisdiction argue that it is necessary in order to preserve parliamentary sovereignty.

“Sometimes we are dogged by parliamentary sovereignty,” Grieve told the Lancaster House conference. “[That principle] was developed at the end of the 17th century for the purpose of emphasising the supremacy of parliament over the executive but over the years it has evolved so that parliament is supreme over the world. It’s within our powers to say that everyone should worship the moon.”

Perhaps the time had come for a written constitution, he added.

The conference, primarily about Magna Carta and the French revolutionary Declaration of the Rights of Man, was sponsored by the Foreign Office and the French embassy.

Grieve’s dire warnings about human rights were echoed in comments made earlier this week by an unnamed court official in Strasbourg. “For the UK to leave would be potentially devastating for this system, which was created to consolidate democracy and rule of law and which now operates in 47 states,” the official told the Wall Street Journal.

The appeal court judge, Lady Justice Arden, who has served as a judge in Strasbourg, told the conference that Magna Carta had been progressively incorporated into common law. That gradual process of evolving human rights, she suggested, was precisely the same process that was happening at the ECHR.

The new justice secretary, Michael Gove, is reviewing draft legislation promised in the Tory manifesto that would scrap the Human Rights Act, introduce a British bill of rights and “cut the link” with the Strasbourg court, returning judicial supremacy to the supreme court in Westminster.

There was no promise of a bill during this parliamentary session in the Queen’s speech. Some suspect a draft bill could nonetheless be published as early as next spring and become entangled with debates about the EU, others believe it has been delayed until after the referendum.

There is speculation that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has told the prime minister, David Cameron, that the UK’s withdrawal from the convention would cross a red line.

An MoJ spokesperson said: “This government was elected with a mandate to reform and modernise the UK human rights framework. The UK has a proud tradition of respect for human rights which long predates the Human Rights Act 1998. But the Human Rights Act opened the system to abuse, damaging the credibility of human rights.

“That’s why we will bring forward proposals for a British bill of rights. Our bill will protect fundamental human rights, but also prevent their abuse and restore some common sense to the system. We will widely consult on our proposals before introducing legislation.”


Owen Bowcott Legal affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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