THERE is a “real risk” that human-rights protections could be diminished once the UK leaves the EU, the House of Lords Justice sub-committee has warned.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for Justice, David Gauke, last month, the committee wrote: “We are clear that the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which will not apply in the UK after Brexit, currently protects certain rights which are not covered by the European Convention on Human Rights.”
They argued that the right to protection of personal data is more substantial under the Charter, and that the loss of the Charter would result in the loss of a free-standing right to equality before the law.
Speaking on Tuesday, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said: “There is a danger that if the Charter no longer has force, we have fewer human-rights protections, and so the question now is: How will that be mitigated?”
The committee wrote: “We are concerned that the Government’s approach to the transposition of EU law, which has essentially involved copying EU law into UK domestic law, but then carving out a variety of exceptions, has the potential to cause serious legal uncertainty. . .
“We see any move to distance ourselves from international human-rights standards as a retrograde step. It will send a negative message to other countries, will have effects outside the UK, and will dilute the UK’s commitment to rights.
“Moreover, if substantive rights were reduced after Brexit, we question whether the United Kingdom would be able to continue to participate in certain programmes with the EU, particularly those relating to data exchange and extradition.”
Bishop Baines said: “There is a sneery dismissal of human rights as an impediment to freedom, whereas I would say they are a licence to freedom. A new Government could replicate it, once we become a great independent nation. They could start with what we have already got, and then people can measure whether we have diminished or enhanced our human rights.”
Northern Ireland is not subject to the Equality Act 2010, and so would suffer even more from the removal of the Charter, the committee argued, especially while it lacks an executive.
The letter concluded: “Once the picture on Brexit becomes clearer, we would encourage our successor committee and other relevant committees, including Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights, to keep the UK’s standards under review to ensure that the removal of the Charter from domestic law does not further affect the substantive rights that individuals currently benefit from in the UK.”