On 14 December 2021 the UK Government released the long awaited Human Rights Act Review response along with a new consultation seeking views on the Government’s proposals to revise the Human Rights Act.
This consultation isn’t happening in a vacuum. There are a number of Bills currently making their way through Parliament that present serious threats to the level of human rights protection across the UK including:
- Judicial Review and Courts Bill
- Elections Bill
- Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
- Nationality and Borders Bill
As Liberty noted on events in Parliament last week, “It was very telling as to this Government’s broader programme that while one chamber debated making it harder to vote, the other discussed making it harder to protest. Follow this up with next week’s debate on making it harder to bring legal challenges and the pattern is clear.”
So, while the consultation couches proposed reforms in terms of building a new ‘Bill of Rights’ for the UK, we remain deeply concerned about plans by the current administration to in anyway alter the Human Rights Act or the ways in which it functions.
The Human Rights Act is working for all of us
At Just Fair, we believe the Human Rights Act is a key pillar of the UK constitution and nothing should be done to undermine it, the rights protected by it, or the ways in which it functions.
Over the last week, we have used Twitter to highlight some of the key reasons why we support he Human Rights Act and the way it protects all our rights across the UK, including:
- Being able to use it to challenge governments and other public bodies and hold them to account is at the heart of our democracy.
- It being a catalyst for changing laws to make them more compassionate for people facing a terminal diagnosis.
- Public authorities, including the Police Service of Northern Ireland being vocal in their support of the Human Rights Act as a useful decision-making tool.
- It allowing people, including disabled people, to better realise their rights without having to go to court.
- Because what’s not to love? The rights it protects enabling people to better live lives of dignity.
- It helps people achieve fair outcomes, including those going through incredibly difficult times, such as the death of a partner
- It being a crucial part of the devolved settlements, including in Northern Ireland where it is a key underpinning of the peace agreement.
- The importance of it bringing rights home. Before the Human Rights Act, you had to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if your rights were breached. While brave people like Jeffrey Dudgeon did, we think that’s a lot to ask anyone.
- These rights were a promise to the people of Europe that the horrors of WW2 would never happen again. That promise must be kept
Our concerns are shared internationally
Over the past number of years, multiple UN Human Rights bodies have expressed concern about the future of the UK’s Human Rights Act including:
- “Ensure that any legislation passed in lieu of the Human Rights Act 1998 — were such legislation to be passed — is aimed at strengthening the status of international human rights, including the provisions of the Covenant, in the domestic legal order, and provide effective protection of those rights across all jurisdictions.” Human Rights Committee, August 2015
- “The Committee recommends that the State party undertake a broad public consultation on its plan to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 as well as on the proposal for a new bill of rights. It also recommends that the State party take all necessary measures to ensure that any new legislation in this regard is aimed at enhancing the status of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, in the domestic legal order and that it provide effective protection of those rights across all jurisdictions of the State party.” Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, July 2016
- “The Committee is concerned that the proposal to replace the Human Rights Act of 1998 with a new British Bill of Rights may lead to decreased levels of human rights protection in the State party, which would negatively affect the situation of individuals protected under article 1 of the Convention…The Committee recommends that the State party undertake meaningful and broad public consultation on its proposal to revise its human rights legislation and ensure that any changes to the current human rights framework strengthens the protection of human rights, and in particular the rights of individuals protected under article 1 of the Convention.” Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, August 2016
- “Make sure that, in case the proposals for a British Bill of Rights are realized, the current level of human rights protection provided by the Human Rights Act of 1998 is maintained and improved.” Ukraine, Universal Periodic Review, May 2017
We will be responding to the Consultation and we would encourage other organisations and individuals to do so too. The British Institute of Human Rights has produced a whole host of resources to help people respond including videos, explainers, blogs and online events. Check them out.