Scrapping human rights act could unpick Good Friday agreement

Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act could breach the terms of the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement, according to a leading human right’s organisation

 

Conservative plans to scrap the Human Rights Act could breach the terms of the Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement, according to a leading human right’s organisation.

The Belfast based Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) has written to the re-appointed Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers to warn that repealing the Act, as outlined in the Conservative manifesto, would breach the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, approved by a referendum and incorporated into an international treaty with the Irish government, deposited at the United Nations.

The CAJ argues that the agreement guarantees that the British government will ensure “incorporation into Northern Ireland law” of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Part two of the agreement notes:

“The British government will complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the Convention, including power for the courts to overrule Assembly legislation on grounds of inconsistency.”

This commitment was made through the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998.

The Good Friday Agreement also notes that “there will be safeguards to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully in the operation of these institutions and that all sections of the community are protected”.

The development comes amid reports that Michael Gove’s efforts to unpick the Human Rights Act could cause a constitutional mess in respect of the Devolution settlement more general. As the Telegraph today notes:

“Even more significantly, withdrawal would have potential consequences on the devolution settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Acts of Parliament giving power to the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Assembly presuppose Britain’s membership of the Convention, as does the 1998 Belfast Good Friday Agreement. If Britain left the Convention, these would have to be amended.”

Pressed on the issue during First Minister’s Questions in Cardiff earlier this afternoon by Kirsty Williams, the leader of the Welsh Lib Dems, Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales argued that scrapping the Human Rights Act “makes us look like a Banana republic”.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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