Dr Spencer Pitfield is the National Voluntary Director of the Conservative Policy Forum (CPF).
Last year, the Conservative Policy Forum’s Home Affairs and Justice Sectoral Group, chaired by Oliver Sells QC and co-authored by Victoria Atkins, the Deputy Chairman, released our national discussion paper: ‘A Magna Carta for 2015’.
The paper noted at the outset that 2015 – the year of the next election – will mark the 800th anniversary of the world’s first written expression on rights and freedoms: the Magna Carta, signed in England in 1215.
As we are all too aware, the term ‘human rights’ has now fallen into disrepute in this country. For many people, it denotes, not fairness or equality, but unfairness and inequality. This is due, in large part, to the decisions made by courts in which the rights of criminals and the irresponsible appear to count for more than the rights of the law-abiding, responsible majority.
This is a far cry from the laudable intentions of the British Government when it ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1951. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Winston Churchill and other leaders sought to ensure the humanitarian horrors of the previous 50 years would never be repeated in Europe. To that end, British lawyers played a leading role in drafting the Convention.
Over 60 years later, there are 47 signatories to the Convention, including Russia, Turkey and the 27 EU member states, representing 800 million people. However, the European Convention and European Court of Human Rights are commonly seen in the United Kingdom as having turned the noble cause of human rights into something dishonourable. The court is seen by some as a lawyers’ paradise: wasteful, patronising, and apparently having little regard to fairness or the real world.
The Prime Minister, in his highly-regarded conference speech yesterday, made clear that a future Conservative Government would scrap the Human Rights Act – Labour’s misguided 2000 Act – and replace it with a new Bill of Rights to give Britain more control over the laws it implements. This Bill of Rights would be passed in our own Parliament and rooted in our own British values.
Our discussion paper ‘A Magna Carta for 2015’ received a tremendous response from in excess of 200 CPF groups nationwide in July 2013. There was overwhelming support from our members to implement a UK Bill of Rights and I have no doubt the announcement by the Prime Minister yesterday as such will be hugely welcomed.