Bringing rights home?

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

When the ECHR was being formulated, shortly after the second world war, the UK was one of the key drafters of the convention. The White Paper that instigated the (partial) incorporation of the ECHR into UK law, almost 50 years later, was entitled: Bringing Rights Home. The introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) was much needed and has led to legislation being more human rights focused, by virtue of provisions such as section 19 (statement of compatibility). Lord Irvine (one of the key figures behind the introduction of the HRA),  in his 2003 article “The Impact of  the Human Rights Act”, contented that the act ensures that parliament, the government and the judiciary all work together to ensure a culture of human rights is embedded across the whole of our society. A culture of human rights is certainly a laudable goal that we all should strive for. However the notion of “Bringing Rights Home” which was championed by Lord Irvine and his colleagues, when bring the HRA into force, is certainly less laudable. The phrase, arguably, suggests that since the UK played a pivotal role in the creation of the ECHR, that the state of the UK is one of the creators of human rights. This would be an utterly farcical contention as human rights are not something that one can create. They are entitlements that are ascribed to a human simply because of their human status. Laws are malleable: they differ between places and over time. Human rights do not share this characteristic with law, they are universal to human beings in all areas and all times. Perhaps the suggestion that the UK is one of the ‘creators’ of human rights is one of the reasons behind calls for a British Bill of rights, in favour of the ECHR. This would be a major step back in human rights law. Therefore, we can thank Lord Irvine and Co for the HRA, but not for the phrase “Bringing Rights Home”.

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