The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is an international treaty which was enshrined into UK law via the Human Rights Act 1998, and is not related to EU treaties. Accordingly, leaving the EU following the Brexit referendum does not automatically lead to a UK withdrawal from the ECHR or the repealing of the Human Rights Act 1998.
The Human Rights Act 1998 ensures that we are all entitled to basic fundamental rights such as the right to a fair trial, the right to life, the prohibition on torture, slavery, and forced labour, the right to liberty and security, the right to respect for private and family life, the right to freedom of expression, etc. The legislation therefore prevents the UK government from introducing legislation, such as the death penalty, which contravenes these fundamental rights
A number of politicians have called for the UK to withdraw from the ECHR and repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 at the same time as the country leaves the EU, and for a British Bill of Rights to be introduced in its place. Nevertheless, it is notable that leadership challenger, Theresa May, has dropped her plans in relation to this suggestion.
However, regardless of who the new Prime Minister will be, nothing is likely to change in the near future with respect to the Human Rights Act 1998. It’s likely to be several months yet before Article 50 is triggered and the negotiations pertaining to the UK’s new relationship with the EU will take several years. Those negotiations, and the separation of UK law from EU law thereafter, will undoubtedly take priority over what to do with the Human Rights Act 1998. Nonetheless, some politicians will continue to call for withdrawal from the ECHR and the repealing of the Human Rights Act 1998, and this should be resisted. Any British Bill of Rights is unlikely to provide the British people with the same level of protection. For example, the present Government’s determination to introduce the Snoopers Charter, which represents a colossal attack on civil liberties, human rights, and undermines all the freedoms that this country fought for in the fight against fascism during World War 2, illustrates that most politicians have no interest in human rights. Any attempt to withdraw from the ECHR and repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 should therefore be opposed. It would open up the flood gates to human rights abuses by the UK Government, such as secret trials, restrictions on political activity, torture, censorship and curbs on freedom of expression, the reintroduction of the death penalty, and many other abuses. It is the thin end of the wedge. In fact, the proposed Snoopers Charter almost certainly constitutes a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR: the right to respect for private and family life. Hence, this is why those politicians who have been backing the Snoopers Charter, have also been pushing for withdrawal from the ECHR and the repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998. It should not only be opposed, but should the Snoopers Charter get through parliament, then the next step should be to obtain a declaration of incompatibility – that the terms of the Snoopers Charter are incompatible with the UK’s obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998.
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