The Complexities of Human Rights and Constitutional Reform in the United Kingdom; Brexit and a Delayed Bill of Rights: Informing (on) the Process

Boyle, Katie,Cochrane, Leanne | July 31, 2018

The United Kingdom’s politicised and contested human rights framework has come under increasing pressure during recent periods of constitutional and political instability. The UK 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union, the delayed repeal of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the proposals to enact a British Bill of Rights have all shaped the discourse at the national level around decisions to retain rights (or not) rather than progressively improve the human rights structure. The European Union and Council of Europe human rights frameworks act as important pillars of human rights and democracy under the UK constitution and each of the devolved constitutions. Constitutional processes such as Brexit risk further confusing an already incoherent and complex human rights framework. This lack of clarity in terms of the future of the human rights regime in the UK and devolved regions has meant that there has been a lack of constitutional safeguards in place to protect human rights and thus far insufficient parliamentary scrutiny. The impact at the supra-national level undermines the UK as a global actor and the impact at the devolved sub-national level is further fragmenting state unity where devolved jurisdictions are on different, and often more progressive, human rights trajectories. The UK is in the process of sleepwalking into a legal human rights deficit. We argue here that this lacunae in legal protections offers, if not necessitates, the opportunity to re-imagine human rights structures in a progressive way embedded in processes that must be genuinely deliberative, informed, participative and inclusive.