Britain could withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights if it does not get the changes it wants to the way the rules are applied, Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday (3 June).
Cameron’s Conservative Party, which won a surprise majority in last month’s election, wants to overhaul existing human rights laws to reduce the influence of the European Court of Human Rights, based in France, which enforces the convention.
“We are very clear about what we want which is British judges making decisions in British courts,” Cameron told parliament when asked by a dissenting lawmaker from his own party to rule out a withdrawal from the convention.
“Our plans set out in our manifesto don’t involve us leaving the European Convention on Human Rights but let’s be absolutely clear, if we can’t achieve what we need … I rule out nothing in getting that done.”
Critics of the Tories’ plans, who include high-profile figures within the party, say quitting the convention would weaken human rights in all 47 signatory nations because other governments would feel free to ignore it.
But Cameron said the problem of foreign criminals citing their convention right to a family life to avoid deportation from Britain despite repeated offences “needs to change”.
The European Convention on Human Rights, drawn up after World War Two in response to Nazism and Stalinism, and ratified by Britain in 1951, was incorporated into domestic law with the introduction of the Human Rights Act in 1998.
The Conservatives have pledged to scrap that act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, although they have yet to provide details of how they would do that.
The party is divided on the issue. Several prominent figures, including Andrew Mitchell, the lawmaker who asked Cameron the question during his weekly question-and-answer session in parliament, are in open opposition.
Cameron has a majority of just 12 seats in the 650-strong House of Commons so the new human rights plans would have to win support from the dissenters to pass into law.
The 1997 Human Rights Act requires British courts to “take into account” case law from the European Court of Human Rights.
The Tories now want to repeal the act, claiming it will make Britain's Supreme Court “the ultimate arbiter of human rights” in the UK.
The plan was first pushed by Interior Miniser Theresa May two years ago and was later picked up by the Conservatives for the 2015 election, which they won.
But critics say quitting the convention would weaken human rights in all 47 signatory nations because other governments would feel free to ignore it.
The European Convention on Human Rights came into effect in 1953.
In the aftermath of the Second World War it sought to set standards on human decency.
The convention established the European Court of Human Rights to which citizens could appeal if they felt their rights had been infringed.