THE ‘MODERN’ BILL OF RIGHTS BILL: Substituting ‘common sense’ with contradictory constitutionalism

Authors:

Calls for reforming or replacing the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights have had difficulty progressing due to a lack of consensus on what such reform would contain and the process by which it would come about. As part of its 2019 general election manifesto, the Conservative Party promised to ‘update’ the Human Rights Act. In 2022, the Conservative Government introduced on a First Reading in the House of Commons the Bill of Rights Bill which would ‘repeal and replace’ the Human Rights Act, leading to widespread criticism within Parliament and civil society as well as discomfort within the Conservative Party itself.

This report interrogates how ‘modern’ (the Government’s chosen word for its consultation on Human Rights Act reform) the Government’s Bill of Rights Bill actually is through the interconnected constitutional themes of the rule of law, standards in public life and devolution, each of which have been undermined by the current Government. By examining the Bill through a constitutionally holistic lens, this report seeks to highlight the unworkability of the Bill in its current form, questions the motives behind the Bill’s creation and proposes what a ‘modern’ Bill ought to include to meet the uniquely ‘British’ constitutional challenges currently existent and that are likely to arise in future. It ultimately argues that instead of ‘restoring a healthy dose of common sense to the justice system’, the Bill would do the precise opposite by creating unnecessary constitutional contradictions and confusion at a time when constitutional coherence is required post-Brexit.

This publication presents the personal views of the author and not those of The Constitution Society, which publishes it as a contribution to debate on this important subject.