Legal Geography — UK Election and the implications for human rights law

The implications of the recent Conservative victory in the UK General Election of 8th May 2015 are already emerging in the field of human rights law. The Guardian are reporting today that Michael Gove, the newly appointed Justice Secretary replacing Chris Grayling, will press ahead with plans in the Conservative election manifesto to scrap the UK’s Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights, the significant consequence of which would be the UK’s withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). In turn this would mean that European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings would no longer take precedent over the decisions of the UK Supreme Court. But as the Guardian article makes clear, the consequences of a withdrawal would be even more profound for the UK Constitution and for another binding agreements drawn up on the basis of the ECHR:

“A withdrawal from the ECHR, which would be strongly resisted by the former justice secretary Kenneth Clarke and the former attorney general Dominic Grieve, would plunge the UK into a constitutional crisis. It would be resisted by the Scottish government and would place the UK government in breach of the Northern Ireland Good Friday agreement of 1998, which was approved by joint referenda on both sides of the Irish border and was lodged at the UN.”

I will write more on this soon, but the effects of scrapping the UK’s Human Rights Act could be even more far-reaching. First, withdrawing from the ECHR could have implications for the UK’s membership of the European Union, as examined in a blog posting late last year by the Open Europe Blog. Second, the UK’s withdrawal for the ECHR will set a precedent for other Council of Europe states that do not agree with decisions handed down from the ECtHR, and could lead to further unilateral withdrawals. Third — and in more abstract terms — it is also a reassertion of state sovereignty when human rights law is concerned with the sovereignty of individuals over their own lives. In this sense it could be argued that human rights law requires some form of transnational jurisdiction (obviously it could be argued that it requires a cosmopolitan or global jurisdiction). In sum: the purpose of human rights law is that it is unpopular with states, it is designed to hold their decision making to account. See also the UK Human Rights Blog round up of coverage of the potential for a UK Bill of Rights,

Alex Jeffrey, May 2015

Photo Credit: “European Court of Human Rights” by CherryX – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia –


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