Barristers reject government plans to scrap the Human Rights Act

updated on 22 October 2015

The vast majority of barristers are opposed to withdrawing the United Kingdom from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in favour of creating a separate UK bill of rights, a survey commissioned by the Times has found.

As part of the wider debate about the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, the Conservative Party made a pledge in its election manifesto to scrap the Human Rights Act and “curtail the role of the European Court of Human Rights” in the country’s law making and justice system. Many political commentators believe that it was a promise the Conservative leadership never expected to have to keep, as an inconclusive election result followed by another coalition government was widely expected before polling day. Of course, the Tories actually went on to win a decisive victory in the election and are now in government, where their supporters expect them to deliver on promises made. This leaves pro-Europe politicians like Prime Minister David Cameron in a difficult position – he now finds himself beholden to the more reactionary, backward-looking elements of his voter base against his better judgment. Despite the fact that the ECHR is a progressive achievement drawn up largely by British lawyers in reaction to the horrors suffered by countless millions during World War 2, the term ‘human rights’ has become a dog whistle for anti-European sentiment among a vocal section of the electorate.

When barristers were asked their opinions by the Times, some 77% opposed a UK bill of rights, while 73% expressed the view that there is no need to reform the Human Rights Act, which protects the rights of everyone in the United Kingdom. A spokesman for the Bar Council said: "Any plans to replace the Human Rights Act are likely to have a significant effect upon the rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United Kingdom. Once the details of any replacement emerge, we, along with our members, will give careful consideration to the proposed measures and make our views clear."