The Bill of Rights is Here ??! Understanding the Queen’s speech

The Queen’s speech normally outlines the legislative proposals of the Government for the next parliamentary session. Only as some sharp eyed commentators noted the 2016 one simply cut and paste a reference to the British Bill of Rights from the Queen’s speech in 2015. The only reference to the British Bill of Rights was to say that “Proposals will be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights.”

Two quick observations on this firstly the context. There were references to upholding “the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons”  and this was linked not only to the Bill of Rights but also to the EU referendum. It seems likely that there is about to be a retrenchment of power in the Commons (which is often code for retrenchment of executive power) and in the context of a Bill of Rights this could well mean shielding the power of ministers to take executive action from review on human rights grounds. This was a stated aim of the Conservatives in their 2014 proposals for a British Bill of Rights and has been a long standing goal among sections of the Conservative party keen to repeal the Human Rights Act.

Secondly the explanatory notes to the speech reveal a growing incoherence at the heart of the project. For example the explanatory note states that a British Bill of Rights will safeguard “against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights”.  There are numerous problems with the concept of the “misuse of human rights”  some of which have been detailed by Professor Mark Elliot . There are also problems raised by Article 1 of the ECHR and the application of absolute rights  which make the concept of “misuse” of rights difficult if not impossible  – all of this government would have to surmount if it were  to remain an ECHR signatory and pass a Bill of Rights of this nature.  As has been pointed out there is now a split among ministers as to whether leaving the ECHR would be necessary for a British Bill of Rights . In this context it is hardly surprising that the the House of Lords European Union Committee has strongly criticised the government over these proposals.

Most importantly however the proposals still aren’t there – only a statement that proposals will be published.


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