Liz Truss on Wednesday scrapped proposals for a “British bill of rights” following widespread criticism from human rights groups, lawyers and senior Conservatives MPs.
The bill was aimed at replacing the Human Rights Act and would have given British courts ultimate authority over rulings issued by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.
Dropping the policy is one of the first acts of the Truss government and follows discussions between the new prime minister, Brandon Lewis, the new justice secretary, and Sir Robert Buckland, the Wales secretary and a former justice secretary.
The controversial proposed legislation had been a priority of Dominic Raab, who was sacked as justice secretary by the new prime minister after she took over as head of government on Tuesday.
The Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto pledged to “update” the 1998 Human Rights Act, but critics of the bill have argued the proposed legislation would threaten human rights and there was no mandate to rip up the existing law.
Critics have previously warned that the proposals faced being extensively amended or blocked by the House of Lords, which provides scrutiny of proposed government legislation before it is passed into law.
One senior government insider said the legislation was “unlikely to progress in its current form”, but that its aims would be maintained. One senior Tory official described the bill as “a complete mess”.
Officials who have worked on the bill insisted the government was reviewing “the most effective means to deliver [its] objectives” through legislation.
Downing Street refused to confirm or deny that it would scrap the bill. “The new secretary of state will consider all policies in their area and this one is no different,” it said.
The proposed legislation was unveiled in June days after the UK was forced to comply with an interim injunction issued by Strasbourg that blocked the UK’s first flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda — dealing a blow to the government’s immigration policy.
Suella Braverman, the new home secretary, has previously signalled her support for the bill. During her brief campaign to be Tory leader this summer, Braverman promised she would take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights and leave the Strasbourg court.
Both court and convention are separate from the European Union and its powerful European Court of Justice, which sits in Luxembourg. Britain’s membership of the convention was unaffected by Brexit.
Senior Tories have expressed misgivings about the legislation. Buckland last month urged that a new prime minister take a “very careful look” at the proposed reforms.
The 1998 Human Rights Act was designed to allow UK citizens to have their challenges heard in British courts rather than having to travel to Strasbourg.
However, Tory MPs have complained the act has encouraged spurious legal challenges by foreign criminals opposing their deportation and wrongful claims made against the police.
Human rights groups and the legal profession have argued the new bill would have diluted protections for the public and made it harder for people to access justice.
Martha Spurrier, director of human rights group Liberty, said it was a “relief” that the bill had been shelved. “Overhauling the Human Rights Act was not a manifesto commitment and would have been the biggest blow to human rights in the UK in a generation,” she said.
Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, has previously said the bill “presents a grave challenge to UK human rights law”, adding it would “reduce government accountability or shield public bodies from scrutiny”.