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The Human Rights Act 1998: Two Decades Swimming Upstream

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Helene Tyrrell


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The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) was a cornerstone of New Labour’s constitutional reforms. By incorporating elements of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law, the HRA represented a voluntary surrender of government power and contributed to a significant rebalancing of the relationship between the individual and the state. Yet, two decades on, the HRA has excited such opposition that the electoral majority is courted with promises of its repeal. This chapter traces the contours of hostility towards the HRA, focusing on three themes: (i) New Labour’s own internal struggle over individual rights protections; (ii) the foreignness of the HRA; and (iii) complaints about judicial empowerment. All three themes evidence significant hostility towards the Human Rights Act, but it is argued that the unpopularity of the Act says more about its conception and neglect than it does about its value in the constitutional order. That the Act has survived a strong adverse tide is testament to its substance. By incorporating the ECHR into domestic law, the HRA has forced successive governments to protect unpopular minorities and to justify decisions by reference to convention rights. The Act has also cemented the importance of human rights protections in the constitutional landscape.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Tyrrell H

Editor(s): Gordon M; Tucker A

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: In Press

Book Title: The New Labour Constitution: Twenty Years On

Year: 2022

Acceptance date: 08/09/2021

Series Title: Hart Studies in Constitutional Law

Publisher: Hart Publishing

Place Published: Oxford


Notes: Ebook ISBN 9781509924653.

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781509924646