UK Politics

Tory conference: Call to bypass Clegg on human rights

Tory MP Conor Burns
Image caption Conor Burns wants to see the return of 'double jeopardy' rule in court

Nick Clegg should be stripped of the power to rule on a British Bill of Rights as he has "already made up his mind" to oppose it, a Tory ministerial aide has said.

MP Conor Burns said he was writing to David Cameron to urge him to take personal charge of the policy.

The prime minister and Home Secretary Theresa May both say they want a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the European Convention on Human Rights in law.

But they have told Tory activists they can not act as quickly as they would like due to Liberal Democrat opposition.

Earlier this year, Mr Cameron set up a commission on a British Bill of Rights - a Conservative manifesto pledge enshrined in the coalition agreement. It is due to report later this year.


But Mr Burns, a parliamentary private secretary in the Northern Ireland office, told a Tory conference fringe meeting that he did not hold out much hope for a change of policy, as the commission would report to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.

Speaking afterwards to the BBC News website, Mr Burns said: "The deputy prime minister told his conference really clearly last week that he is having no truck with removing the Human Rights Act from the statute book.

"So we have got a bit of an impasse here."

He added: "I don't really understand the point of the report going to Nick Clegg if Nick Clegg has already made his mind up.

"So I think the prime minister now should ask the commission to report to him. All I'm saying is, very clearly, the coalition should implement the coalition agreement."

European Arrest Warrant

Many Tory MPs are angry about the impact of human rights rulings on issues like giving prisoners the vote and giving sex offenders the right to challenge their place on the sex offenders register.

But Lib Dem Chris Huhne has warned scrapping the act would threaten the coalition - and Nick Clegg vowed last week that it would stay in place.

Mr Burns said he was also prepared to defy the government whips over the European arrest warrant, if asked to vote in favour of it in the Commons, even if it meant being stripped of his junior government post.

He told BBC News: "I don't like the concept of foreign police being able to come to our shores, or take our citizens to their jurisdiction where, frankly, they may not get the same sophistication of justice."

'Double jeopardy'

He said the government should act to reverse some of what he sees as the illiberal criminal justice measures passed by the previous Labour government - such as removing the right to trial by jury in some cases and ending the "double jeopardy" so that people can be tried again for the same offence.

"As part of a wholesale review of what happened to our legal system over the last 13 years I think we should look seriously again at double jeopardy.

He said allowing people who had been acquitted by a jury to be tried again "destroys people's lives".

"The victim will never get closure and the accused will never get closure," he added.

Welsh Office minister David Jones also backed further government action on civil liberties at the Big Brother Watch meeting, but stressed that the coalition had already achieved much, including scrapping ID cards and the ContactPoint child protection database.

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