The coalition government may rethink Tory manifesto plans to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with new laws.
The Conservative election manifesto promised to scrap the 1998 act in favour of a new Bill of Rights which would take precedence over European legislation.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell criticised the proposal, but gay equality charity Stonewall said it was more concerned about what the law does, instead of “what it’s called.” Human rights charity Liberty has also called for the act to remain.
The change was to be implemented immediately if the Tories won power, after a string of cases in which foreign criminals were allowed to stay in the UK.
Last Tuesday, a tribunal ruled that a terrorism suspect who was a known Al-Qaeda operative could not be deported to his home country of Pakistan.
The Special Immigration and Appeals Commission said it believed Abid Naseer was involved in an “imminent” terror plot but he would be tortured if returned home.
However, the Liberal Democrats oppose scrapping the act and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg signalled today he would strongly oppose watering it down.
He told The Times: “Any government would tamper with it at its peril.”
The coalition government will now set up a commission to look at the issue.
Home secretary Theresa May said today that “no decision” had been made on scrapping the act and downplayed the importance of the manifesto promise.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We did say that we thought the Human Rights Act wasn’t working in certain areas and we are now discussing with our coalition partners what we will be doing in that area.”
Human rights group Liberty said the Human Rights Act had to remain to protect “British common values”.
Director Shami Chakrabarti said: “A coalition that has attempted to tie itself together with the language of civil liberties cannot now renege on fundamental human rights.”
The act enshrines fundamental rights in the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law. It provides protections around privacy, family life, fair trials and freedom from torture.
Although it does not explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity, it has been used to secure a number of gay rights victories and guarantees protection from discrimination.
It does not force the UK to legalise marriage for gay couples. Article 12 grants men and women the right to marry.
James Welch, legal director of Liberty, said: “All of the advances that the LGBT community has achieved over recent decades have been driven – at least in part – by the European Convention on Human Rights.
“Article 8 protects our right to love who we want while Article 14 protects us from discrimination. Enforcing these rights will be much more difficult if the Human Rights Act is repealed.”
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk that the act was “the single most important piece of legislation in the last 30 years”.
He said: “Until now, the Conservatives have indicated that they want to dilute and weaken pieces of the Human Rights Act. That would be a very retrograde step.”
Instead, he called for the “expanding and strengthening” of the legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill said his organisation was more concerned about “what it does, not what it’s called”.
He said: “If the principles of the act are maintained, we are not worried about it.
“It meant people could go straight to court in the UK rather than the expense of going to Europe. It was a convenience matter to us.
“If it looked as if the Tories want to water it down when in a coalition, we would still be signed up to European law.”
He added: “I think a lot of it is political posturing. The most important thing to us the protection, not how it is expressed.
“It’s about what it does, not what it’s called.”