Queen’s Speech: Tories push ahead with controversial plan to scrap Human Rights Act

Britain's Queen Elizabeth sits on the throne as she waits for members of the House of Commons to arrive before reading the Queen's Speech during the State Opening of Parliament in the House of Lords in London, Britain May 18, 2016. © Alastair Grant
Human rights groups have condemned Tory plans outlined in the Queen’s Speech to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

Queen Elizabeth II announced the government’s plans to ditch the HRA during the official state opening of parliament on Wednesday.

Proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights,” the Queen said, in the speech written by the Tory government.

Civil rights group Liberty described the move as “worthy of the Donald Trump campaign trail,” while Amnesty International UK urged the government to “leave the Human Rights Act alone.”

More than six years have passed since Prime Minister David Cameron first mooted the idea of scrapping the HRA. Despite gaining a majority of parliamentary seats in last year’s general election, the PM sidelined the British Bill of Rights in order to focus on holding a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU.

Contrary to earlier plans, the bill will not result in Britain quitting the European Court of Justice (ECJ), located in Strasbourg. Rather, it draws from a compromise tabled by Justice Secretary Michael Gove.

Britain will continue to subscribe to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), meaning foreign terrorists and criminals will retain the right to have their cases heard by European judges.

However, when British judges disagree with their counterparts in Strasbourg, the UK will retain the right to overrule Europe’s judgments.

In attacking the government’s announcement on Wednesday, civil liberties group Liberty quoted families of British servicewomen who died under suspicious circumstances and whose deaths were only investigated properly thanks to the HRA.

Des James, whose daughter Private Cheryl James was found dead with a bullet wound at Deepcut Barracks in 1995, said the HRA was crucial to securing the release of evidence and a “wide-ranging inquest.

“The state has every interest in preventing light from being shone into dark corners,” Des James said. “The act allows ordinary people to challenge the power of the state.”

The fact that the establishment doesn’t like that very much simply shows that the act is working,” he added.

Corporal Anne-Marie Ellement killed herself in 2011 after alleging two of her colleagues raped her.

Ellement’s family used the HRA to gain a fresh inquest into the death, which exposed the extent of bullying and harassment she endured prior to her death.

Her sister, Sharon Hardy, said: “I am one of the many relatives of servicemen and women who have used the act to secure justice for the loved ones we’ve lost. It is outrageous and disrespectful to all those who serve our country for this Government to use the language of ‘protecting our troops’ to sell shameful proposals that will do the absolute opposite.”

Kate Allen, UK director for Amnesty International, cited the role the HRA played in an inquest into the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 football fans were killed due to police negligence.

Hillsborough shows how vital the Human Rights Act is to ordinary people when all other avenues of justice fail. We mustn’t let politicians tear up those hard-won protections,” Allen said.