25 June 2015
The Chief Commissioners of the two human rights institutions, North and South, today made a joint presentation for the first time to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.
The two Commissions were invited by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement to discuss the potential effects of the UK Government’s proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998.
Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) outlined their concerns over the UK Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’.
The two chief commissioners informed the Committee that proposals to reduce the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights to advisory opinions would have ramifications for the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.
Ms Logan stated: “The importance of promoting and protecting human rights is fundamental to safeguarding peace, respect and inclusion in communities across the island of Ireland.
“Members of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission are concerned that the terms of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement may be affected if the British Government carries through on its pre-election manifesto promises to repeal the UK Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights.
“As members of the Committee will be aware, human rights protections were a core feature, not an ‘add on’, of the Peace Process and the negotiations around the Agreement.”
Mr Allamby informed the Committee: “In effect, human rights protection and compliance has been a cornerstone of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements.
“Attempts to dilute the role of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence, runs counter to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Commission believes that any legislative proposals should not undermine the commitments contained within the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”
In September 2014, the Home Secretary Theresa May announced to the Conservative Party annual conference that the party intended to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a “British Bill of Rights”.
On 3 October 2014, the Conservative Party published “Protecting Human Rights in the UK – the Conservatives’ proposals for changing Britain’s Human Rights Laws”.
The key objectives are to:
· Repeal the Human Rights Act
· Break the formal link between British Courts and the European Court of Human Rights
· End the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to force the United Kingdom (UK) to change the law
· Prevent laws being rewritten through interpretation
· Limit the use of human rights law to the most serious cases and the reach of cases to the UK
· Amend the Ministerial Code to remove any ambiguity about the duty of ministers to follow the will of Parliament in the United Kingdom.
It also set out that the courts in in the UK would no longer be required to take into account rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and judgements finding violations of human rights would be treated as advisory.
In the Queen’s speech in May, setting out the new government’s legislative proposals it was announced that it: “will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. This would reform and modernise our human rights legal framework and restore common sense to the application of human rights laws. It would also protect existing rights, which are an essential part of a modern, democratic society, and better protect against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights.”
The two chief commissioners expressed concern that no formal consideration has yet been given to the implications of these proposals for the Good Friday Agreement.
Ms Logan stated: “Repeal of the Act and withdrawal from the European Convention would have negative consequences for the uniformity of human rights standards across these islands. The importance of promoting and protecting human rights is fundamental to safeguarding peace, respect and inclusion in communities across the island of Ireland.”
Mr Allamby said that “the Agreement confirms the UK Government’s intention to incorporate into Northern Ireland the ECHR with direct access to the courts and remedies for breaches of the Convention including powers for the courts to overrule Assembly legislation on grounds of inconsistency. The incorporation was put into effect by the introduction of the Human Rights Act from 2 October 2000.”
The Joint Committee met on Wednesday 24 June at Farmleigh House to discuss the implications for the Good Friday Agreement of the British Government’s proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a ‘British Bill of Rights’.
For further information please contact Claire Martin on 02890243987.
Notes to Editors
On June 18, the three national human rights institutions in the UK, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain issued a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The letter set out the value of the Human Rights Act as ‘providing essential protection to everyone in the United Kingdom enabling fundamental rights to be enforced in domestic court’. The Human Rights Association reflects and is embedded in the constitutional arrangements for the UK. In particular, it maintains parliamentary sovereignty, a primary role for domestic courts in the interpretation of the ECHR and is central to arrangements for devolution in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
The letter is available at this link:
In Ireland, the European Convention on Human Rights is given effect through the European Convention of Human Rights Act of 2003.
The Good Friday Agreement (or ‘Belfast Agreement’ or ‘British-Irish Agreement’ or ‘Northern Ireland Peace Agreement’) was agreed in Belfast on Good Friday, 10 April 1998. It consisted of two inter-related documents:
1. Multi-party Agreement by most of the political parties in Northern Ireland.
2. British-Irish Agreement, an international agreement between Ireland and the UK - the legal element of the Good Friday Agreement, where the two Governments affirmed their commitment to support/implement the provisions of the Multi-Party Agreement.
Under ‘Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity’, a requirement was placed on the Irish Government to ‘establish a Human Rights Commission with a mandate and remit equivalent to that within Northern Ireland’.
Section 8(i) of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000 gave the former IHRC the power to participate in the Joint Committee. This function was reaffirmed in s.10(2)(q) of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014.
This section also established the Joint Committee of representatives of the two Human Rights Commissions, North and South.
26 Jun 2015