Threatened Consultation Delayed Again

The Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, has today announced that the government’s consultation on changing our human rights laws has been delayed until 2016.

After the general election in May 2015, the government announced that it would “scrap” our Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) and replace it with a “British Bill of Rights”. Whilst the Ministry of Justice – the department responsible for any reform of human rights laws – had initially stated that a consultation on the plans would be launched in September and then autumn 2015, the Secretary of State for Justice has today announced that the consultation paper will now be published in “the new year”.

The delay is as a result of a request from the Prime Minister to include in the consultation paper additional questions on the constitutional role of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the UK. The status of the UK Supreme Court has caused some controversy in Scotland in the past eg over the Cadder case when it ruled that depriving a detained person from seeing/speaking to a solicitor when s/he was deprived of liberty was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).  The Court’s judgement was logical given that the European Court of Human Rights had already ruled on the matter in the case of Salduz v Turkey (2008) http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-89893

The First Minister has declared that the SNP would oppose abolition of the HRA at the UK Parliament and that the Scottish Government opposes abolition of the HRA.  It is inconceivable that the Scottish Parliament will give legislative consent for abolishing the HRA in respect of devolved powers – powers which will of course increase after the Scotland Bill is passed – as it has repeatedly voted to support both the HRA and ECHR eg in November 2014.

Conflicting stories about the consultation have been consistent: in October 2015 it was reported that the Government was planning to fast-track the creation of a British Bill of Rights, so it could to get the contested legislation passed by the summer of 2016; MPs were reported as thinking that Michael Gove, would delay the Bill until later in this Parliament, because it warranted only 12 words in the Queen’s Speech in May 2015.

As purdah for the Scottish Parliament elections is due to begin on 23rd March 2016, it will be interesting to see if the consultation takes place around this time making it an issue in the Holyrood election campaign and thwarting any activity by civil servants on the matter.