Welsh ministers confirm opposition to Westminster’s new Bill of Rights
The Welsh Government has confirmed its opposition to the UK Government’s new Bill of Rights, describing it as an effort to “dilute the rights of the people of Wales and the UK”.
Ministers also said they had no advanced sight of the legislation, which was introduced in the House of Commons yesterday, except for five clauses which were provided at the end of last week.
The proposed legislation was put before MPs after the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg disrupted the UK Government’s controversial flagship policy for asylum seekers who arrive on unauthorised journeys.
In a written statement Mick Antoniw, Counsel General & Minister for the Constitution and Jane Hutt MS, Minister for Social Justice also complained of a lack of engagement with the Welsh Government since consultation on the Bill closed at the end of March.
Responding to the introduction of the Bill by Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, the joint statement said: “We set out our substantial concerns about this Bill in our formal response to the consultation.
“As we said then, the Welsh Government is opposed to any proposal to replace the Human Rights Act.
“It is our view that this action would be part of a concerted effort to dilute the rights of the people of Wales and the UK.
“We understand there was a very large response to this consultation, and we know that many others have expressed their concerns that the UK Government’s proposals represent a serious regression on human rights in the UK, at a time when it has never been more important to uphold international law.”
“Although the Deputy Prime Minister has said that the UK will remain a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, it seems clear that the intention is to undermine the Convention by increasing the rights of UK Ministers and reducing the power of UK courts, as well as the European Court of Human Rights, to enforce the rule of law and hold Ministers to account.”
Introducing the Bill, Mr Raab told the House of Commons that a British Bill of Rights will “restore a healthy dose of common sense” to the justice system.
He also sought to reassure members that the UK will not leave the European Convention on Human Rights, an international agreement that underpins human rights law as well as peace in Northern Ireland.
Mr Raab said: “Our Bills of Rights will strengthen our proud tradition of freedom, it will demarcate a clearer separation of powers.
“It will ensure greater respect for our democratic institutions, and it will better protect the public and restore a healthy dose of common sense to the justice system which is essential for commanding public confidence.
“Ultimately it will make us freer, it will help keep our streets safer.
“We will strengthen the separation of powers in this country, affirming the supremacy of the Supreme Court, being explicit that the UK courts are under no obligation to follow the Strasbourg case law and indeed are free to diverge from it.”
But Mr Raab said the UK “intends to remain a state party” to the European Convention on Human Rights.
He added: “The problems that we encountered have stemmed from the elastic interpretations and the expansion of absent meaningful democratic oversight, in particular as a result of the procedural framework set out in the Human Rights Act.”
The key objects with reform, he said, are to “reinforce those quintessentially UK-wide rights like freedom of speech”, adding “we will also recognise the role of jury trial”.
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