In the Media

Cameron's Bill of Rights

PUBLISHED June 28, 2006

What is the difference between the existing Human Rights Act and David Cameron's planned Bill of Rights?

When we passed the Human Rights Act in 1998, we bought a ready-made collection of rights off the shelf. Mr Cameron's version would be made-to-measure and more suited to our needs.

If the European convention has been sitting there for more than 50 years, it must be looking rather old-fashioned by now.

It has been refashioned regularly by the European Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg. Some of these interpretations are not to Mr Cameron's taste. He wants to go back to the drawing board.

What will be in Mr Cameron's Bill of Rights?

We do not yet know. It will take a panel of experts "a number of years" to reach a lasting consensus.

Do we need a Bill of Rights?

Mr Cameron says that to abolish the Human Rights Act and put nothing in its place would have the "strong disadvantage of taking a step backwards on rights and liberties". People who claim that the Government is responsible for a breach of the European convention on human rights would still be able to take a case to Strasbourg.

Then why not go all the way and pull out of the European convention?

Mr Cameron believes this would send the wrong message to the emerging democracies of Europe. He also says that English common law would not be strong enough to protect us from a future government that might repeal habeas corpus and abolish our freedoms.

Surely he does not believe that a future Conservative government would do this?

Presumably not, but if we pull out of the human rights convention we would probably have to leave the European Union. No state has ever joined the EU without first signing the convention.

Will it be harder for our judges to extend rights "inappropriately"?

That is what Mr Cameron believes. His Bill of Rights will be drafted more tightly than the human rights convention, giving the judges less room for manoeuvre.

Will this work?

Up to a point. But the judges would still have to balance the rights of the individual against the rights of others in specific cases. They still need a measure of discretion.

Will this give us a written constitution for the first time?

Mr Cameron's Bill of Rights would become part of the constitution, though much of the constitution would remain unwritten.

Is the Government right to say that Mr Cameron's plans are confusing?

People in Britain would have two different levels of protection, as they did until 2000. The difference is that some rights could be enforced in Britain although not in Strasbourg, while others could be enforced in Strasbourg though not in Britain.

So the Strasbourg judges could still overrule our courts?

Mr Cameron thinks they would be less likely to do this because our Bill of Rights might be "entrenched" in some way, making it more difficult to repeal. He knows that this is difficult to achieve because his Oxford tutor, Prof Vernon Bogdanor, used to tell him that no parliament can bind its successor.

And what did Prof Bogdanor say in his Magna Carta lecture this month about Mr Cameron?

"I fear that I was not very successful in teaching him the importance of preserving human rights in a democracy."