Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has launched an unprecedented attack on a key Conservative policy by insisting that scrapping the Human Rights Act would bring “shame” on Britain.
David Cameron has repeatedly pledged to scrap the controversial law, saying it “flies in the face of common sense”.
But last night Keir Starmer said the principles enshrined in the act were “basic” and “fundamental” and suggestions that it should be abolished based on “flawed analysis”.
The Human Rights Act, which became law in 2000, was intended to place a legal framework around citizens’ most important rights.
However it has since been blamed for allowing terrorism suspects to take refuge in Britain, blocking the extradition of foreign prisoners and even preventing police forces from revealing the identities of criminals on the run.
In a speech last night to mark his first 12 months as DPP, Mr Starmer condemned any move to change the current law.
He said: “I find myself in difficulty when I hear talk of the need to 're-engineer’ or 'rebalance’ the criminal justice system. Such talk usually emerges after a particularly questionable decision which receives undue notoriety.
“Usually this has a thread back to the Human Rights Act of how a victim’s rights have been trampled on by an almost Orwellian spectre of European-inspired legislation.
“It would be to this country’s shame if we lost the clear and basic statement of our citizens’ human rights provided by the Human Rights Act on the basis of a fundamentally flawed analysis of their origin and relevance to our society.”
He added that it was a “lie” to describe the legislation as a “criminals' charter”.
Mr Starmer's criticism as DPP of the opposition party’s policy is highly unusual, although in his speech he stressed his independence, saying that "no Government may instruct me as to what to do: neither, by the same token, can any member of the public".
Two years ago Mr Cameron, said he would scrap the Act after it emerged that the killer of London headmaster Philip Lawrence could not be extradited because of human rights considerations.
Earlier this year, the Tory leader said the Act had failed to protect against the “erosion of historic liberties”, and that the Conservatives would replace the legislation with a British Bill of Rights to “better tailor, but also strengthen, the protection of our core rights”.
Mr Starmer, best known for revising the guidance to prosecutors on assisted suicide, was appointed last year by Baroness Scotland, the attorney general, on a five year contract which expires in 2013, midway through the next parliament.
Crowned Human Rights Lawyer of the Year in 2001, Mr Starmer made his name in a series of high profile cases before he was appointed DPP. Earlier this week he attracted criticism for suggesting that prosecutors should take into account the cost of court cases when considering whether to bring charges against criminals.
In 2007 he acted for two terror suspects in the landmark House of Lords case that led to the control order system for terror suspects being declared unlawful under human rights law.
In the speech at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, Mr Starmer said of the rights set out in the Act: “They are basic; they are fundamental; and they are so much part of our way of life that we take them for granted.
“Human rights do not mysteriously disappear if one is a victim of a crime. Human rights do not recognise any form of boundary.
“Contrary to what appears to be a widely-held, but ill-informed, view, human rights do not magically appear when a suspect is stopped on the street; or is arrested; or is charged; or is prosecuted; or when they appear in court.”
The Human Rights Act, which was passed by Parliament in 1998 and became law in 2000, made it unlawful for a public body to act in a way which was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights for the first time.
It sets out a series of basic protections for British citizens, including the right to "freedom of thought, conscience and religion", "freedom of expression" and a right to a "family life".
Last December, Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, said that the Government wanted to “rebalance” the legislation by establishing a new Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.
He said: “There is a sense that it’s a villains’ charter or that it stops terrorists being deported or criminals.”
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph last month, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers said weakening or undermining the Human Rights Act would cause a rift with the judiciary.
Britain's top judge said he considered the incorporation of the HRA into domestic law "a very good thing", while stressing that he did not wish to stray into politics.
Last night the Tories stuck by their commitment to scrap the Human Rights Act. Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve said: “The Human Rights Act is not the only way to implement human rights in Britain.
“The Conservatives believe a Bill of Rights will deliver a better balance – and it is a matter for Parliament to decide.”
Hope, Christopher. (21st of Oct, 2009). Keir Starmer says Tory plans to scrap Human Rights Act would bring shame on Britain. The Telegraph. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/6399636/Keir-Starmer-says-Tory-plans-to-scrap-Human-Rights-Act-would-bring-shame-on-Britain.html