The Deputy Prime Minister (Dominic Raab)
We strived to make sure we kept within the trammels of what had been in the consultation document, but I heed your advice as ever, Mr Speaker.
With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on the publication and introduction of a UK Bill of Rights as we take the next steps to fulfil our manifesto commitment and deliver human rights reform across the country.
We have a proud tradition of freedom under the rule of law in this country, and I remind hon. Members on both sides of the House that it dates back centuries to Magna Carta, not just to 1998. This Bill of Rights, published today, is the next chapter in the evolution and strengthening of our human rights framework, and it is available online and in the Vote Office.
I now turn to the key strands of our reforms. First, as I said when we launched the consultation back in December, the UK intends to remain a state party to the European convention on human rights. It is a set of common-sense principles, and the problems we have encountered stem from its elastic interpretation and expansion, absent meaningful democratic oversight, particularly as a result of the procedural framework set out in the Human Rights Act.
The key objective of our reform is to reinforce quintessential UK rights such as freedom of speech, the liberty that guards all the others. We will also recognise the role of jury trials, mindful of how they operate in different parts of the United Kingdom. Jury trials are not prevalent on the continent, but they are very much part of this country’s heritage and pedigree. These liberties are part of our proud history, but they are also critical to strengthening our place in the world as an open, vibrant and rambunctious democracy.
We will also strengthen the separation of powers in this country, affirming the supremacy of the Supreme Court and making it explicit that UK courts are under no obligation to follow Strasbourg case law and, indeed, are free to diverge from it. I am proud of our world-beating judiciary, and what is the point of a Supreme Court if it bows in subordination to a European court?
We have seen the goalposts on human rights shift over time through expanded judicial interpretations, licensed by the Human Rights Act, which has tended to magnify overweening rulings from Strasbourg, although it is worth noting in fairness that there has been more judicial restraint in Strasbourg on occasion in recent times. Nevertheless, what ebbs may flow, and we will ensure in our Bill of Rights that any expansion of human rights law—as opposed to its interpretation—is subject to proper democratic oversight by elected Members in this House. Our reforms to sections 2 and 3 of the Human Rights Act in particular will squarely address the flaws in the current framework.
We will be crystal clear that when it comes to the laws of the land, and the legitimate, necessary and constructive dialogue we have with Strasbourg, it is Parliament that has the last word. Much has been said by the judiciary in Strasbourg about an age of subsidiarity, with greater respect for the will of domestic democratic institutions, particularly since the 2012 Brighton declaration, which the UK spearheaded to promote reform. Our approach is crafted with that in mind in order to facilitate that dialogue between the UK and Strasbourg, and to avail ourselves of the margin of appreciation within the bounds of the convention. Equally, as a matter of basic democratic principle, we will reaffirm and reinforce the democratic oversight and control exercised by this House.
Our Bill of Rights sets out a range of important reforms, including a permissions stage in the UK courts to assert greater checks over frivolous claims at an earlier stage, reflecting the Strasbourg Court itself, which has an admissibility stage. We have included provision to ensure that the behaviour of anyone claiming a breach of their human rights is taken into account when our courts consider compensation; it is a principle of law in this country that those who come into equity do so with clean hands, and I think that should be reflected in human rights claims.
We will expressly provide for greater weight to be given to Parliament’s determination of the public interest, as set out in primary legislation, when considering the interpretation of rights in order to ensure that we are better equipped to protect the public. That will reinforce our ability to, for example, deport more foreign national offenders, particularly those claiming ever more elastic interpretations of article 8 on the right to family life to frustrate the deportation process.
Our Bill of Rights will ensure that we can deliver our reforms to the parole system, so that when it comes to finely balanced assessments of risk in decisions on the release of potentially dangerous offenders, public protection is the overriding priority. It will also prevent well-meaning but counter-productive and onerous straitjacket regulatory burdens from being placed on our public services as a result of rulings determined by lawyers in court rather than regulation on such sensitive matters being set by elected lawmakers in this House. That is particularly important with respect to finely balanced assessments of social policy, and matters with a financial impact—the bread-and-butter issues that it is for this Parliament to decide.
We have consulted and engaged widely across the whole United Kingdom, and will continue to do so. This is a UK-wide reform, but we want to work with all the devolved Administrations on these essential reforms, so we will be seeking legislative consent motions—noting, nevertheless, the status of the Human Rights Act as a “protected enactment” under the devolution settlements, meaning that reform, replacement or revision can take place only from Westminster.
Our Bill of Rights will strengthen our proud tradition of freedom, demarcate a clearer separation of powers, ensure greater respect for our democratic institutions, better protect the public, and restore a healthy dose of common sense to the justice system, which is essential for commanding greater public confidence. Ultimately, it will make us freer and help to keep our streets safer. I commend this statement to the House.