Tory plan to repeal Human Rights Act in NI would constitute flagrant breach of Belfast/Good Friday Agreement


13 May 2015

Dear Friends,

This morning on BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, said that “CAJ has no grounds” for believing that the repeal of the Human Rights Act would breach the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. In fact the Agreement states (amongst other references to the European Convention):

The British Government will complete incorporation into Northern Ireland law of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breach of the Convention, including power for the courts to overrule Assembly legislation on grounds of inconsistency.

The European Convention is not a dead document published in 1950 but a living text, interpreted by the European Courts and the UK courts in the light of modern conditions and standards. “Incorporation” in domestic law means incorporation of the text and the decisions of the Court and other bodies of the Council of Europe.

The Human Rights Act states: A court or tribunal determining a question which has arisen in connection with a Convention right must take into account any…
judgment, decision, declaration or advisory opinion of the European Court of Human Rights,

Without this ability by the UK courts to participate in developing the meaning of the Convention, it cannot be said to be incorporated in domestic law. Scrapping the Human Rights Act and breaking the link between the Convention and UK courts would therefore mean breaking the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, breaking the international treaty that underpins it and breaking faith with the overwhelming majority of the people of Northern Ireland that supported the Agreement by referendum.

11 May 2015

Tory plan to repeal Human Rights Act in NI would constitute flagrant breach of Belfast/Good Friday Agreement

On the day of her reappointment human rights group CAJ has written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP, to seek urgent clarification of the new Government’s intentions relating to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Tories have committed to plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 which incorporates the ECHR into UK law, including Northern Ireland law, within 100 days of taking office.

However, as CAJ observes, repealing the Act in this way in relation to Northern Ireland would be a flagrant breach of the Belfast/ Good Friday Agreement, voted on by referendum and incorporated into an international treaty with the Irish Government, deposited at the UN. The GFA guarantees that the British government will ensure ‘incorporation into Northern Ireland law’ of the ECHR.

Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ said

“The Secretary of State should urgently clarify the Governments position as to whether it intends to breach the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement in this way. Such a step would make the UK an international outlaw and significantly rollback the peace settlement in Northern Ireland.”

A copy of the correspondence and the relevant extracts from the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement treaty can be found below.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the European Court of Human Rights which oversee compliance with it ARE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE EUROPEAN UNION (EU). Rather are provided for by the Council of Europe, an international body of member states, established after the Second World War to ensure minimum standards of democracy and human rights, which subsequently expanded after the fall of the Berlin Wall to include central and eastern European states.

CAJ correspondence to SOS re HRA May 2015