The Government's pledge to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights is a welcome and long-overdue development. But if the Government is really committed to creating a culture of human rights in the UK, it will have to go further than that.
Incorporation will not of itself be enough to bring the convention to life for ordinary people. The public will need to be educated about their rights and will need somewhere to turn for advice on enforcing them.
Test cases on interpreting points in the convention will also be needed, and the onus for this should no longer be placed on pressure groups. We need an independent body empowered to carry out investigations into systematic breaches of human rights, which might not be revealed by individual court cases.
A human rights commission is one way of encompassing these different roles, and the idea has been welcomed by many in the legal profession. The Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, recently intimated that he is inclined to hold back on creating such a commission. But the danger of a wait-and-see attitude is that, once incorporation is achieved, the idea may be lost altogether.
A human rights commission would provide a focus for the development of human rights in the UK. It would also send a message to the rest of the world that this country is finally taking its human rights commitments seriously.
But an all-embracing commission as recommended by the Institute for Public Policy Research will work only if it has the support of all involved in human rights. There is a long way to go before a solution is worked out, but the Government should not dilly-dally on the issue any longer. The time for decision is now, before incorporation, and not at some unspecified point in the future.