As expected, today’s report from the Commission on a Bill of Rights offered little. With a membership evenly split between Tory and Lib Dem nominees, it was set up to fail.
Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, who resigned from the Commission in March, tells me that this problem was exacerbated by the way in which it was run: it was barred from discussing either the European Court of Human Rights or the Convention. He says:
‘The Commission was not able to have a productive discussion because of the determination of the civil service to produce an artificial argument’.
Attention now moves to what the Conservatives will say about the matter in their manifesto. In a paper published as part of today’s report entitled ‘Unfinished Business’ (p182 onwards), Lord Faulks QC and Jonathan Fisher QC warn that the Strasbourg Court’s ‘judicially activist approach’ means ‘the notion of human rights has been devalued in the eyes of the public’. This report, which isn’t supported by all the members of the Commission, adds:
‘Mindful of the Court’s activist approach, there are strong arguments that the cause of human rights, both in the UK and internationally, would be better served by withdrawal from the Convention and the enactment of a domestic Bill of Rights, or at the very least a renegotiation of the UK’s terms of membership so as to free it from the strictures of the Court.’
Pinto-Duschinsky is pleased that this paper has moved the debate on to the role of the Court, and this is the opinion of a growing number of Conservative cabinet ministers. But we know that Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, disagrees with this view. Between now and the publication of the next Conservative manifesto, there’s going to be an almighty tussle over this issue.