A Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission is to be established, the newly elected Conservative Government promised in today's Queen's speech.
No further detail was given, but the Conservative manifesto contained a commitment to “update” the Human Rights Act to ensure “a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government”. The commission would be convened within a year to look at "modifications" to the Act.
The speech also promised that work would be taken forward to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, which prevents a Prime Minister calling an election at a time of his or her own choosing unless it has the support of two thirds of the House of Commons.
Concern at the new commission was expressed by the Scottish Human Rights Commission. Kavita Chetty, head of Strategy & Legal, commented: “We do not yet know the exact remit and scope of the Commission announced today. However, given previous threats to the Human Rights Act from the current UK Government, we have concerns about its intended purpose.
“The Human Rights Act is an important part of the UK’s constitutional framework within which devolved powers are exercised in Scotland. In the context of Brexit and the loss of rights protections from the European Union, the Human Rights Act plays an ever more critical role in providing a threshold of protections across the UK.
“The Commission has expressed longstanding opposition to the regressive nature of previously mooted proposals to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act. This important law, and the culture of respect for people’s rights that it promotes, has had an immensely positive impact on people’s lives including in hospitals, schools, prisons, care homes and workplaces.”
She added: “The UK Government today expressed its commitment to promote human rights and the rule of law internationally. That is welcome, but must also be demonstrated at a national level. This means the remit and scope of any Constitution, Democracy & Rights Commission must be guided by a commitment to the highest level of protection possible for people’s rights, and respect for the rule of law. These are fundamental principles underpinning our democracy and providing state accountability where it is most required in people’s lives.
“We would also expect any commission established to represent a diverse range of independent political, legal and societal views from all parts of the UK. Consideration of our rights and constitution are not only matters of law. They are about social values, our relationship to government at every level and, ultimately, the recognition and protection of the human dignity of all.”