Government assault on human rights undermines Good Friday Agreement, says Farry

Alliance Deputy Leader Stephen Farry MP has criticised UK Government plans for a public consultation which would lead to significant changes to human rights protections.

The Independent Human Rights Act (HRA) Review was established in December 2020 to examine the framework of the HRA, how it operates and whether any change is required. Specifically, the review considered two key themes – the relationship between domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights, and the impact of the HRA on the relationship between the judiciary, the executive and the legislature.

The Government has responded to the subsequent report by setting out proposals to reform the HRA in a consultation paper. Dr Farry said it would have particular implications for the Good Friday Agreement and any future legacy process relating to Northern Ireland.

“These proposals will undermine human rights and their enforcement for everyone across the UK. Many vulnerable people are set to see their rights and ability to seek protection significantly restricted,” he said.

“They carry particular consequences for Northern Ireland. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a cornerstone of the Good Friday Agreement, and the HRA gives effect to that. Any changes in terms of how rights are enforced and judgements from the European Court of Human Rights are applied would be a sinister development.

“The ECHR is a foundation of the Good Friday Agreement and the HRA gives effect to that. This would not only bad for the UK as whole, but would mark a further breach of an international agreement.

“The implications of these proposals on current and future legacy process re Northern Ireland could be considerable. At present, European Court of Human Rights judgements define standards. If domestic courts can ignore Strasbourg rulings, then that is a very significant problem.

“It is widely accepted the UK Government’s proposals on a Troubles amnesty will be a breach of Article 2 of ECHR, and would be struck down in due course. These proposals may block that course of action.

“These are only proposals at this stage, but we must take these threats extremely seriously.  However, they are part of a wider attack on human rights and liberties from this Government, ranging from what they are doing to criminalise fleeing war and persecution to restrictions on freedom to protest.

“There is a real danger of the UK slipping towards an authoritarian state. If today’s proposals were made elsewhere in the world, there would be legitimate concerns.”