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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 May 2006, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Blair 'to amend human rights law'
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Mr Blair wants action to protect the 'law-abiding majority'
Tony Blair is planning sweeping changes to the UK's human rights laws despite vehement criticism from civil liberty campaigners, it is reported.

The Observer says a leaked letter to Home Secretary John Reid suggests creating new laws which would allow the government to veto court rulings.

It follows a judge's decision to block the deportation of nine Afghans who hijacked a plane to Britain.

Civil rights group Liberty said plans to change the act were "sinister".

Mr Blair - who called the decision to allow the hijackers to stay "an abuse of common sense " - told Mr Reid change was needed to "ensure the law-abiding majority can live without fear again".

Public safety

The letter says: "We will need to look again at whether primary legislation is needed to address the issue of court rulings which overrule the government in a way that is inconsistent with other EU countries' interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights."

The Observer, quoting a Downing Street source, said one option being considered was to amend the 1998 Human Rights Act, a piece of legislation which wrote the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.

This would require judges to balance the rights of the individual with public safety which, the source said, they do not always do.

The plane hijacked by the Afghans
The plane was hijacked and flown to Stansted

Meanwhile, the Lord Chancellor said while the Human Rights Act would not be scrapped, it could be amended to ensure its application was not "distracting" officials.

Lord Falconer told the BBC's Sunday AM cases like that of rapist Anthony Rice, who killed a woman while on parole, raised concerns over the law.

The report into Rice's murder of Naomi Bryant in Winchester last year said officials had considered his human rights above their duties to the public.

Lord Falconer said the human rights laws themselves were not at fault but their interpretation.

'Sinister twist'

"We need to be absolutely clear that human rights do not in any way reduce people's public safety," he added.

Lord Falconer said the government is considering a programme of education and training for officials who have to work with and apply the act.

However, human rights groups have attacked the plans.

Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer says the law is being misinterpreted

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, told The Observer: "This government is addicted to quick-fix legislation to distract attention from maladministration.

"The sinister twist in this case is that the government's own Human Rights Act is being used as the target for tough talk."

She added: "It is an important framework to give the courts a say to prevent the worst excesses of authoritarian government."

'Led to disasters'

BBC political correspondent Terry Stiastny said some ministers were worried about the public's perception of the act and possible "over interpretation" by officials.

But she added that new legislation was still only a "distant possibility".

Conservative leader David Cameron has pledged to reform, replace or scrap the Human Rights Act if he is elected as he said it is undermining the UK's ability to deal with foreign criminals.

His comments came after more than 1,000 foreign prisoners were released from jail without being considered for deportation.

Shadow home secretary David Davis told Sunday AM concerns over the act had been raised by the Conservatives in 1998.

"Tories are not against human rights but we think the way the government has done it has led to disasters."

Liberal Democrat constitutional affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said: "The answer is to seek better collective protection, not rip up human rights obligations which have stood the test of time and are important guarantees for the rights of us all."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Listen to an interview with Lord Falconer



SEE ALSO:
Tory pledge on Human Rights Act
12 May 06 |  UK Politics


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