Now that they're freed from the trammels of coalition, the Conservatives can push ahead with plans for repealing the Human Rights Act (HRA), which were blocked until now by the Liberal Democrats.

The HRA was enacted in 1998 to make it easier to enforce rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in the British courts, without the delay and expense involved in taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The HRA does not oblige British courts to follow Strasbourg's decisions, nor is the UK Parliament bound by Convention rights. However, disappointed litigants can still take a case to Strasbourg if they fail to get a remedy in the domestic courts.

The HRA has been successful in increasing the profile of human rights in the UK's legal systems, but has failed to secure universal political acceptance.

The Conservatives propose to replace the HRA with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. It's unclear what exactly this will involve, but human rights lawyers fear that it will water down protections. Nevertheless, unless the UK also withdraws from the ECHR - which the party proposed last October, but on which its manifesto was silent - the option of taking a case to Strasbourg will remain.

Since the HRA was enacted, British judges have also become more assertive about protecting human rights under UK common law, and rights protection has become more explicit under European Union law as well.

So repealing the HRA might actually make relatively little difference in practice.

It may also be difficult to achieve. Labour, SNP, as well as some Conservative MPs, will oppose repeal and getting a Bill through the House of Lords will be particularly tricky.

But the major sticking point is likely to be devolution.

Contrary to some suggestions, devolution does not mean that Scotland would be unaffected by HRA repeal. Scots law currently has two human rights regimes: Convention rights are incorporated by the Scotland Act 1998 as well as the HRA.

The Scotland Act prohibits the Scottish Parliament and Government from breaching Convention rights, and holds them to a higher standard of rights compliance than the UK Parliament and Government.

But other Scottish public authorities - local councils, or bodies such as Police Scotland - and UK government bodies operating in Scotland - like the UK Border Agency or Jobcentre Plus - are subject to the weaker regime in the HRA.

Removing ECHR compliance from the Scotland Act and other devolution statutes would require the devolved legislatures' consent under the Sewel Convention.

That alone is likely to stop the UK withdrawing from the ECHR altogether. In Northern Ireland, ECHR withdrawal would also breach the Belfast Agreement, and could therefore jeopardise the still fragile peace process.

By contrast, Westminster could repeal the HRA without Holyrood's consent. Crucially, though, it could not impose any replacement Bill of Rights, and the Scottish Government is committed to robust rights protection.

A compromise might be for Westminster to repeal the HRA, but to allow the devolved legislatures to decide for themselves what should replace it. This would be legally untidy. However, some might welcome the opportunity for Scotland to develop its own human rights agenda, strengthening and perhaps widening the scope of protection.

But before we get carried away, we should pause to consider the merits of human rights reform.

Conservative party objections to the HRA are largely misguided - driven by often erroneous tabloid reporting and more than a whiff of Euroscepticism.

The claims which most upset the tabloids - involving prisoners, terrorist suspects, or asylum seekers - are those in which the rights of vulnerable minorities are most in need of protection.

But there is a respectable critique of judicially enforceable human rights. This points out that human rights can be (ab)used to protect the powerful as well as the powerless; the judicial record on rights protection is not especially impressive; human rights claims are often deeply controversial; and Bills of Rights often foster legalistic compliance rather than a genuine culture of respect for rights.

The Conservatives' proposals create the opportunity to have a proper debate on the desirable scope and methods of human rights protection. This should have occurred before the HRA was enacted but did not, and it partly explains why the Act remains controversial.

We will do ourselves no favours if the issue now is reduced to 'human rights good; Tories bad'.