UK GOVERNMENT’S PLEDGE TO REPEAL HUMAN RIGHTS ACT COULD BREACH THE GOOD FRIDAY AGREEMENT
On the eve of the Queen’s Speech, an independent report which concludes that the UK Government’s plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 would be likely to breach the Good Friday Agreement is launched in Westminster. The independent report was commissioned by a group of Members of the European Parliament and it was written by lawyers at Doughty Street Chambers in London and KRW Law LLP in Belfast. The report has its Westminster launch at a cross-party event in the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday 17 May 2016.
It has been widely reported that the Queen’s Speech is expected to contain a pledge to have a consultation on the Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Although there is still no clarity from Number 10 and the Ministry of Justice regarding a timetable or model for the repeal and replacement of the Human Rights Act, the Government’s current proposals would be likely to breach the Good Friday Agreement in one or more of the following ways:
The Agreement imposes a specific obligation on the UK government to ‘complete incorporation’ of the European Convention in Northern Ireland law. It is difficult to see how the Conservatives’ key aims to restrict the application of the Convention could be achieved consistently with the UK’s obligations under the Agreement.
- The Agreement is part of an international treaty between the UK and the Republic of Ireland.
- Any possible breaches of the Agreement, such as creating a mismatch in human rights standards between the Republic and Northern Ireland, would be likely to constitute violations of the UK’s international legal obligations.
- There is a strong argument that incorporation of the Convention in Northern Ireland is an essential provision of the treaty, and if the UK were to detract from that commitment, it could be in material breach of international law.
Doughty Street Chambers barrister and co-author of the report, Caoilfhionn Gallagher, said:
“Northern Ireland is often overlooked when Westminster politicians are devising policy which will affect the UK as a whole. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was the culmination of a long, delicate and painful process of negotiation and compromise across the political spectrum. Protection of fundamental rights and freedom from discrimination are the lifeblood of the Agreement. The Human Rights Act is now critical to how Northern Ireland runs, including its policing structures, and is the mechanism used to hold the State to account for historic failures. The implications of the proposed repeal for Northern Ireland, and the wider ramifications for the UK of the Northern Irish aspects, should be front and centre of this debate.”
Niall Murphy, Partner, KRW Law and Director, Relatives for Justice, said:
“These proposals are a full frontal assault on our Peace Agreement. For many victims of the conflict, the Human Rights Act is an essential tool to ensure that there is a proper and full investigation where there has been a breach of their rights by State agents, including cases where the State failed to protect their loved ones’ lives or were responsible for their deaths. We hope that this Report will serve to inform the need to protect our rights, to protect the peace and to deliver truth, justice and accountability for the victims of our Conflict which shapes our present and determines our future.”
Sir Keir Starmer QC MP (Labour MP and former DPP) will chair the cross-party event on 17 May 2016, which will focus on discussing the report and its implications. Speakers include:
- Dominic Grieve QC MP, Conservative MP and former Attorney General;
- Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission;
- Lynn Boylan MEP, Sinn Féin Member of the European Parliament;
- Report authors Caoilfhionn Gallagher and Katie O’Byrne, Barristers, Doughty Street Chambers; and
- Niall Murphy, Solicitor and Partner, KRW Law LLP.
Notes for Editors:
- The report was commissioned by the European United Left / Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) Group of Members of the European Parliament. It is written by Caoilfhionn Gallagher, Katie O’Byrne and Keina Yoshida (Doughty Street Chambers) instructed by Gavin Booth and Anurag Deb (KRW Law).
- For copies of the report or to arrange an interview with the authors of the report, please contact Chelsea McLaren at Doughty Street Chambers: email@example.com or 020 7404 1313.
- The launch will take place in Committee Room 9, Palace of Westminster, at 17.30 – 19.00, 17 May 2016.
- If you wish to attend, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lawyers from Doughty Street Chambers and KRW Law will be available for comment and interviews on the afternoon of Tuesday 17 May 2016, prior to the Westminster launch of the report.