Briefing Document: Human Rights reform and Northern Ireland.

Discussion of the repeal of the UK Human Rights Act has intensified following the election. The Act is a complex instrument, and there would be significant implications flowing from its repeal.

Northern Ireland has a particularly important relationship with the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Good Friday Agreement (a key part of the Northern Irish peace process) enshrined a fundamental role for the ECHR in moderating the values of plurality and equality in the ‘new’ Northern Ireland.

Unpicking the terms of the Good Friday Agreement is unwise. Human rights protections were not an ‘add on’ to the peace processes but were a central feature of the reconciliation.

Beyond the effects upon the people of Northern Ireland, there are potential implications for the UK’s relationship with Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement is (at least in part) a contract between the British and Irish states. The interests of the Republic of Ireland in human rights protections in Northern Ireland should also be respected.

‘In Northern Ireland, human rights protections are not only a check on governmental power, but also an informal check on the dominance of the “other side”’

Aoife O’Donoghue & Ben Warwick


  • The people of Northern Ireland and the Irish Government should be fully consulted about any potential changes to the Human Rights Act.
  • If changes are pursued to the form of human rights protections in Northern Ireland (which we would recommend against), the changes should not reduce human rights protections in substance. The permanency and consistency of rights protections in Northern Ireland is crucial.
  • Consideration should be given to the potential outcomes of altering the effect of the Good Friday Agreement.
  • The pluralist and consensual values of the Good Friday Agreement should be respected in reforms.
  • The provision of the Good Friday Agreement allowing domestic courts to overrule Assembly legislation where it is inconsistent with the ECHR, should remain as a necessary safeguard.

Download the briefing document below: