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Lecture on the UK Human Rights Act by Sir Nigel Rodley

{jcomments off}On Wednesday 2 May, Sir Nigel Rodley, Professor at the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex, member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and former United Nations Special Rapportuer on Torture presented a public lecture on the UK Human Rights Act.

During a week in Pretoria, Sir Nigel also taught on the LLM programme in human rights and democratisation in Africa as part of a teacher exchange between the Centre for Human Rights and the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex.

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The Human Rights Act incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights in UK law. In his lecture, Sir Nigel illustrated the importance of legislation allowing judicial enforcement of human rights treaties in states where international law is not directly applicable before the courts, in particular in countries such as the UK which before the adoption of the Human Rights Act did not have a bill of rights. He noted that even after the adoption of the Act, the British courts cannot strike down laws as incompatible with the Human Rights Act. However, courts can issue a declaration of incompatibility. To give the courts a right to strike down legislation, as in South Africa, would not have been possible in the UK due to the principle of parliamentary sovereignty which is a fundamental unwritten rule in the UK, a country which still lacks a written constitution.

Sir Nigel illustrated that the compliance with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights by the UK has been exemplary both before and after the adoption of the Human Rights Act in 1998. The only case of non-compliance to date is the failure to amend legislation providing for a blanket ban on prisoners’ voting in general elections which the European Court held in 2005 to violate the European Convention. Legislation that would remove the blanket ban has been drafted but not yet submitted to Parliament due to the controversial nature of the measure. The good compliance record, even in controversial cases such as prohibition of deportation of suspected terrorists because of a real risk of torture in their home countries, can be contrasted with attacks on the Human Rights Act by many politicians and journalists even in cases in which the Human Rights Act did not play any role in controversial decisions by courts or other bodies.

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