In an interview with PoliticsHome, the Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, has confirmed that the Conservatives’ 2015 manifesto commitment to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 with a “British Bill of Rights”, is on hold – presumably for the remainder of the present Parliament:
“Given that we are leaving the European Union and we will have the Great Repeal Bill going through Parliament, clearly that is going to signify a major constitutional change. So the British Bill of Rights, whilst it remains a commitment, is not something we can do at the same time as we are putting through that Great Repeal Bill. That is going to affect the constitution… it’s important we only do one constitutional reform at a time.”
She also had some supportive words for the judiciary:
“I think the judges of the Supreme Court are people of integrity and impartiality. I meet with them regularly to discuss all kinds of issues and that is very important in my role as Lord Chancellor. I also believe we live in a free society and free democracy and we have a free press. It is very important that politicians don’t get into the business of policing headlines and saying what is acceptable or not acceptable to print. I think the independent judiciary and free press are bulwarks of our freedoms and we need to protect them jealously.”
While the members of the UKSC will no doubt be highly relieved that the person with the statutory duty of upholding judicial independence under s 3 (Guarantee of continued judicial independence) Constitutional Reform Act 2005 believes that they are actually doing their job properly, the Lord Chancellor’s deafening silence after the Daily Mail’s ‘Enemies of the People’ headline will no doubt continue to rankle with many: quicker would have been better. Or, to put it charitably, perhaps she felt torn between her (entirely proper) desire to uphold the freedom of the press and her duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
As to the “British Bill of Rights”, we must presumably wait and see. [Thanks to the UK Human Rights Blog]
I am having difficulty encountering the words “Liz Truss” and “Lord Chancellor” in the same sentence : just the latest episode – I dare say – in the on-going dismantling of the English legal system What could possibly go wrong?
Yesterday Adam Wagner reminded his Twitter followers of the comments of Lord Pannick on a previous Lord Chancellor, when he was speaking on the Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill, HL Hansard, 04 November 2014, Vol 756, Col 1563.
Lord Pannick (CB): My Lords, unlike some of your Lordships, I am not disappointed by this Bill. When I see that the Lord Chancellor is bringing forward a legislative proposal, I worry about which valuable aspect of our legal system he is going to damage: judicial review, human rights and legal aid have all come under the cosh. It is, then, a pleasant surprise that the Lord Chancellor should be using valuable legislative time on a Bill which is so anodyne and pointless that the only appropriate response is a shrug of the shoulders or the raising of an eyebrow.
Since neither of those gestures would be recorded in the Official Report, it is necessary to put one’s response into language.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, each quoted Shakespeare. I cannot compete with that, but the Bill puts me in mind of what Basil Fawlty says of his wife Sybil in the celebrated television programme, “Fawlty Towers”. I hope that noble Lords will excuse this un-parliamentary language. He said: “She should be a contestant on ‘Mastermind’. Special subject: the bleedin’ obvious”. The Bill is a statement of the legally obvious. I find it very difficult to believe that, if enacted, it is going to make any difference whatever to any case that becomes before the courts.
Correction: PoliticsHome, not Conservative Home – I’ve changed it.