Repealing the Human Rights Act was one of the key pledges made by the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the run up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Nigel Farage, who at that time was leader of UKIP, was a particularly outspoken critic of the Act, claiming that it enshrined “European human rights” into UK laws and prevented the deportation of foreign criminals.
Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it False.
Nigel’s Farage’s tweet and accompanying video conflate the Human Rights Act with the European Convention on Human Rights, claiming it is “damaging our ability to get rid of dangerous people from our country”. This, he said, is because “dangerous people” can seek the protection of European laws in UK courts.
The European Convention on Human Rights is an international agreement that was drafted and signed in the years following the Second World War by the 47 countries that make up the membership of the Council of Europe.
The Council of Europe is a human rights organisation that was founded in 1949 with the aim of protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is a completely separate entity to the European Union, a political and economic association of 27 countries that was founded in 1993 to facilitate trade. The UK, which is no longer part of the EU, remains a member of the Council of Europe, of which it was a founding member.
Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, one of the Council of Europe’s six founding fathers, was instrumental in the creation of the Convention. It is essentially a list of fundamental rights – such as the right to life and the right to a fair trial – which were agreed by all 47 Council of Europe members then formally accepted through a process called ratification between 1951 and 1953.
In ratifying the Convention, all 47 Council members agreed to be bound by its terms. It was not possible to hold them to account on this until 1959, though. That was when the Council of Europe established the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, a legal forum where people who believe their rights have been denied can have their cases heard.
People in Britain could not take their cases to Strasbourg until 1966, when the UK signed up to the European Court of Human Rights. From that point onwards they could go directly to the Strasbourg court.
Farage argues that the UK should scrap legislation called the “EU Human Rights” act. There is no such law.
The Human Rights Act is a UK law that was passed in 1998 and came into effect in 2000. It incorporates the rights set out in the Convention into domestic UK law, allowing people in Britain to enforce those rights in UK courts. The Act requires UK courts to interpret other UK laws so they are compatible with the Convention.
If it is not possible to do that, the courts can issue a declaration of incompatibility. That gives an indication to Parliament that the other law should be changed, but the courts have no powers to make that happen.
It was not possible to bring Convention cases in a UK court before 2000. All matters had to be taken directly to Strasbourg. Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister at the time the Human Rights Act was passed, said it would “give people in the United Kingdom opportunities to enforce their rights under the European Convention in British courts rather than having to incur the cost and delay of taking a case to the European Human Rights Commission and Court in Strasbourg”.
After the Act was passed the European Court on Human Rights became the final court of appeal for all cases starting in the UK. The UK remains a member of the Council of Europe and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, meaning the Strasbourg court remains the final court of appeal for UK cases. Brexit has had no impact on that because it related solely to Britain’s exit from the EU.
If the Human Rights Act was scrapped, people living in the UK would still be able to access the same protections by taking their cases directly to Strasbourg instead of to the UK courts. This is due to the UK’s continuing membership of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights.
Ferret Fact Service Verdict: False
There is no such legislation as the EU Human Rights Act so it is impossible to call for it to be scrapped. The Human Rights Act is a piece of legislation drafted and passed by the UK Parliament that incorporates the provisions set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Convention was drafted for and signed by the members of the Council of Europe, a human rights organisation that is completely distinct from the EU.
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