Charter of Fundamental Rights – Government Report

Part of European Union (Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:15 pm on 21st November 2017.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 2:15 pm, 21st November 2017

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Like him, I am looking forward to hearing the Minister attempting to square the circle on that one. It is one thing for the Government to argue that the charter needs to be removed, but it is another for others then to argue that it makes no difference. Let me illustrate a few other areas in which the charter does make a difference.

Let us take article 24—it was mentioned earlier—which gives effect to the UN convention on the rights of the child. While we are a signatory to the convention, that does not provide the same legal protection—simply as a convention signatory—as would be provided by the incorporation of the charter. Let us take the right to a fair hearing, which goes beyond article 6 of the European convention on human rights on the right to a fair trial, because it applies to civil rights and obligations, as well as to criminal charges. In the ZZ case, with which the Minister will be familiar, the Court of Justice of the European Union held that the right to a fair trial in article 47 of the charter applied to immigration cases. Significant issues are therefore at stake.

Let us look at article 13, which requires that academic freedom shall be respected. With the possible exception of some Government Whips—the Vice-Chamberlain of Her Majesty’s Household, Chris Heaton-Harris, was keen to see the reading lists and curricula of university lecturers to make sure they were teaching Brexit correctly—I am sure that Members on both sides of the House agree that academic freedom is an important principle, and it is not secured anywhere else. How do the Government anticipate that these rights will be enforced in the absence of the charter, and which aspects of the EU acquis or UK domestic law could be used to guarantee these rights? That is an important question.

It is not just that excluding the charter will diminish rights; the charter has transformed access to human rights protection. As the House of Commons Library briefing makes clear, it is not just that the charter contains more rights than the European convention on human rights and codifies existing rights in one place. When we compare the charter with the Human Rights Act, we see that it has a wider class of applicants who can use it. Anyone with a sufficient interest can apply for a judicial review based on the charter, and it can also be relied on in other types of case—for example, employment tribunal claims—that are within the scope of EU law. By contrast, claims under the Human Rights Act can only be made when an individual is a victim of a rights violation.