Scrapping the Human Rights Act – all change?

In the main Summer issue of zoom-in magazine, we reported that newly installed Prime Minister, Theresa May, appeared to have dropped plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’), or at least put them on the back burner.

It now appears, however, that the Prime Minister intends to include such plans in the Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2020 election. It appears that the intention is to replace the Human Rights Act with a so-called ‘British Bill of Rights’ – something that has been mooted by this Conservative government for a number of years.

It is not clear what existing rights would be retained in a British Bill of Rights and which would be removed. Nor is it clear what would happen in Northern Ireland, where maintenance of the human rights set out in the ECHR (which the Human Rights Act incorporated into UK law) is written into the Good Friday peace agreement.

Human rights have had a huge influence on the UK’s media laws. Some rights, such a freedom of speech (now often called freedom of expression) have long been part of English law and are unlikely to disappear, whatever type of rights legislation is in place. Others, in particular the right to a private and family life, have traditionally enjoyed less protection under English law, but have formed an increasingly important part of the law since the Human Rights Act came into force.

The extent to which privacy rights would survive the repeal of the Human Rights Act – and how freedom of expression and privacy rights would be balanced in media cases under any Bill of Rights – is at the moment unclear. Certainly, what any new rights legislation says about privacy will be of great importance to all in the media, and those who seek to protect their private lives. zoom-in will continue to report any developments