The Constitution Unit


Press Release: Speech by the Former Attorney Gengeral Dominic Grieve MP to the Constitution Unit and Judicial Institute of UCL on 3 December 2014

3 December 2014

A British withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights would be "devastating for Britain and human rights throughout Europe, says Dominic Grieve, sacked as Attorney General by David Cameron in July.

His speech is his most detailed criticism yet of a Conservative strategy paper issued in October by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. It recommends replacing the Human Rights Act and breaking the link with Strasbourg judgments, rendering them merely advisory. If the Strasbourg changes are not accepted, the UK would leave the Convention.

"Such a course may be strictly lawful but its practical consequences are likely to be devastating both domestically and for the future of the Convention," says Mr Grieve.

While conceding that charges of "mission creep" by the Court over cases like prisoners' voting rights are "valid," he says that the Brighton Declaration which he helped Ken Clarke negotiate as Justice Secretary had addressed the huge backlog of Strasbourg cases, and reinforced the discretion of national courts. "We might have achieved more if fellow signatory governments had not been deterred … because of a fear we wished to diminish the Court's effectiveness." The Conservative document was going to make further progress still harder.

Mr Grieve says he was struck by the paucity of concrete examples in the document to justify the case for change. The added delays and costs involved in the appeals by Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada may have been irritating to ministers, but their appeals failed in the end and resulted in ministers also welcoming the promotion of human rights.

While he agreed that Article 8 (the right to family life) had been invoked too often to try to prevent the deportation of foreign criminals on completion of their sentence, this had more to do with the UK Borders Act 2007 and had been rectified by the new Immigration Act.

The Conservative proposals would call into question the devolution settlements, particularly Northern Ireland's which incorporated the Human Rights Act into the Good Friday Agreement. They open up the possibility of a new area of political discord, quite apart from the possibility of our courts having to operate different rights systems in one country. "For a Unionist party this seems a strange thing to do."

Internationally, "countries such as Russia are already are using the UK position to try to procrastinate in implementing judgments."

In the end however, Mr Grieve believes that the Conservative debate will not lead to withdrawal from the Convention, or "such an adverse outcome for human rights or the national interest". "We will win the argument", he concludes.

Notes for Editors