A group of legal experts have expressed concerns about the UK’s future commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although the ECHR is separate from the European Union, experts have voiced concerns that the UK’s vote in favour of leaving the European Union “seriously increases” the possibility that Britain may also choose to leave the ECHR.
According to De Montfort University Professor Neil Parpworth, who specialises in human rights law, the UK’s continued commitment to the ECHR depends in large part on the question of who will be the next Prime Minister. One of the favourites to succeed David Cameron as leader of the Conservatives and current government is Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who was a prominent figure in the Leave campaign during the run-up to the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. While Gove has previously spoken in support of the Convention, he has also said that the UK must strive to ensure the European Court of Human Rights is reformed and that, if this did not happen, then nothing should be ruled out.
Theresa May, the current Home Secretary, has also been named as one of the favourites to succeed David Cameron. May previously spoke out in favour of abandoning the UK’s commitment the ECHR, claiming that “the ECHR can bind the hands of parliament.”
Barrister Sir Paul Jenkins QC, of Matrix Chambers, believes that the vote in favour of Brexit leads to a higher possibility of the UK also abandoning its commitment to the ECHR even though this is not part of the European Union. Sir Paul said: “In law and in logic the two are not linked but I think the political reality is that if the public saw a vote to leave as a step towards reclaiming our independence as a British nation why wouldn’t they at the same time want to reclaim our independence on Strasbourg?”
Parpworth expressed similar sentiments. If the next Prime Minister does decide to pursue the possibility of exiting Britain’s current commitment to the ECHR, he suggested, they might frame this as a means of “taking back control” – a phrase which was one of the key mantras of the campaign to leave the European Union.
In response to Theresa May’s previous statements in favour of abandoning the ECHR, Bella Sankey of campaign group Liberty said “the convention doesn’t bind parliament and – despite Theresa May’s best efforts at mud-slinging and myth-spreading over the years – the case for remaining a signatory is unequivocal.”