The Human Rights Act, despite what the Daily Mail says, is a very good thing for this country. It has protected us from house arrest, our DNA stored on a database without our consent, and various other things the government would have liked to have forced on us without considering our rights. Here are a few basic notes on its history.
The Human Rights Act 1998 is one of the most important pieces of legislation of the last century, if not of all time.
It was was included in the first Queen’s speech after Labour was elected in 1997 – however, this did not mean much as Labour had been promising a Human Rights Act since 1974, and had first mooted it in 1962.
The Act actually came into effect in 2000; it’s implementation was at the discretion of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, who kept putting it back. It was feared that it would never be enacted. c.f. The Easter Act of 1926. The Chancellor claimed that the reason was the need to train judges in the interpretation of the Act. After several judges began delivering judgements as if the Act was already in force, however, the act was brought in.
After WWII, several attempts were made to prevent anything like it happening again. Both the UN and the concept of inalienable human rights were developed. Regional variations of this also arose. The European Convention on Human Rights was passed in 1950/1. The Attorney General at the time stated that the convention would be incorporated in UK law, but his party promptly lost power for 13 years and nothing happened.
The UK traditionally implements treaties through an Act of Parliament. Power was given to the courts in Strasbourg to overrule British laws. See also the Malone case, which involved the right to privacy and phone tapping.
1991 saw the case of R v Home Secretary ex parte Brind, which was about freedom of speech for the IRA. The Strasbourg courts came down on the side of the IRA. As a consequence the senior law lord Lord Bridge decreed that therefore, where there was ambiguity in a Parliamentary Act and one interpretation was compatible with the Human Rights Act and one was not, the compatible one should be favoured.