July 2021

 

You can download this impact report as a PDF here.

Why were we concerned?

In December 2020, the UK Government created an Independent Human Rights Act Review (IHRAR) This was set up following the Conservative party’s pledge to “relook” at the Human Rights Act 1998The UK Government said the review was need to look at 20 years operation of the Human Rights Act, however it set down restricted terms of reference for the review. Therefore, when the Review launched a call for evidence it focused on narrow legal questions about the Human Rights Act in the courtrooms and the relationship with parliament. This does not reflect 20 years of the HRA’s operation.

At BIHR, we see the value of the Human Rights Act (HRA) every day in our work with people accessing services, community and advocacy groups and staff working in public services. You can read some of our real life stories of change here.

We were concerned that a Review which was too narrow in scope would not gather evidence which truly reflects people’s experience of 20 years of the HRA’s operation. If the Review reported to the government only the information received from these narrow legal questions, the government may propose changes to the Act with only a tiny piece of the picture in terms of the importance of the Act in securing human rights every day across the UK.

What did we do?

We wanted to make sure that when the Panel reported back to the Government they would be able to reflect on the importance of how the Human Rights Act is used every day, outside of the courtrooms. We therefore did two key things with the aim of amplifying the voices of people with lived experience of the Act:

  1. Produce a comprehensive report to the Panel, led by research with people, communities and frontline workers on their lived experience of the HRA. And to amplify this through the parallel inquiry being run by parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.
  2. Work with the Panel to hear directly from people with lived experience through a specific roundtable discussion.

 

Experience led-research to inform responses

Working with a range of partners in the voluntary sector and frontline staff bodies across the 4 nations, we held 5 research and upskilling workshops, alongside an easy read survey, reaching over 400 people. (This was alongside a range of supports for people to engage with the consultation process directly)This provided us with extensive experience-led research to submit a comprehensive response to the call for evidence which answered the legal questions posed by the Review and crucially also shared the views of over 300 people across the UK of using the Human Rights Act in their lives. The evidence we gathered was consistent across the UK and our submission amplified those voices. It is clear that the route to making human rights real for everyone is not through more legislative reviews of our Human Rights Act. What is needed is human rights leadership, at all levels, ensuring that the Human Rights Act is understood and implemented every day, in every interaction a person has with public services. You can read our full response here.

 

Creating a platform for the panel to hear people’s lived experience directly

The Panel ran a number of meetings with specific groups and public roadshows, hosted by law schools of universities across the UK. We were keen for the Panel also held an event which was accessible to an audience who have experience using the Human Rights Act outside of academic or legal circles. Importantly, we wanted to make sure that the Panel heard examples of the section 6 duty in the Human Rights Act. This duty means that public authorities (such as the NHS, police and social services) must act in a way that is compatible with human rights. We also wanted the Panel to hear about why the section 3 duty, the duty to apply other laws in a way that is compatible with human rights, as far as possible, is important, not just in court rooms but in everyday life. We were concerned that if this did not happen, that the conversation would only hear from academic and legal voices, and wider everyday experience about a vital law would be missed

We partnered with our colleagues at Liberty to set up a “lived experience roundtable” for IHRAR panel members to attend. This roundtable, held online, gave the Panel an opportunity to hear the stories of people who have used the Human Rights Act, to create change in their lives. Importantly, this included people who have had to use the HRA to stop arbitrary decisions or practices of polices being applied to them in such a way that it breached their rights and the staff who work in public services who have legal duties to uphold rights under the Act.

Amplifying the voices of people with lived experience of using the Human Rights Act

 With permission, ourselves and Liberty have written up the stories shared with the Panel on the Lived Experience Roundtable held on 23 June 2021. You can read all 10 stories shared with the Panel in full here. You can also read the minutes from the event on the IHRAR website here.

 

In brief, the Panel heard from:

  • Sarah, a lead at a large NHS Mental Health Trust about her Trust’s work using the Human Rights Act to create positive change for people accessing services. Sarah talked about how her Trust, supported by BIHR, uses the Section 6 legal duty to act in a way that is compatible with human rights and the Section 3 duty to apply other laws, such as the Mental Health Act, in a way that is compatible with human rights. She talked specifically about using human rights when decisions are being made around restraint, seclusion and restrictive practices to ensure people’s rights are the primary concern. You can read more about Sarah’s human rights work here.

“In short, the Human Rights Act has given us a legal, objective, decision making framework, provided by no other law or policy, to ensure rights are protected and people and staff are safe. We’ve made human rights part of the Trust’s strategic aims. In its current form, the law is powerful and a framework for positive change for people and families accessing Trust services.”

 

  • Ian is a carer for his wife and son, who have a range of health and medical needs, including learning disabilities, dementia and autism. Ian told the Panel about he has used the Human Rights Act section 6 legal duty to challenge a range of poor practice in health and care in everyday advocacy. You can more about Ian’s human rights work here.

 “Human Rights are so important, to help us ensure that public services do the right thing. My most important plea to the Panel is that the Review in no way reduces people’s human rights under the Human Rights Act. If anything, we should end up with something which is more robust and inclusive.”



  • Fazeela, who has over 20 years’ senior strategic leadership experience in the Health and Social Care field as a Social Worker. Fazeela, like Sarah, told the Panel about how the Section 6 legal duty in the HRA is a supportive framework for her and her colleagues who have to make decisions involving people’s capacity and effectively state detention when they are placed in care homes; the law helps them to decide if restrictions are needed, and if so that it is lawful, legitimate and proportionate. Fazeela shared with the Panel that social work teams across the UK, use the HRA every day to make crucial decisions about care and support for individuals and their loved ones. You can read more about Fazeela’s human rights work here.



  • Joe, who is the Chief Executive of 'All Wales People First' the united voice of self-advocacy groups and people with learning disabilities in Wales. Joe shared that members of All Wales People First used the Section 6 legal duty to challenge the isolation policies of a supported living unit which did not respect the right to liberty (Article 5) or the right to private life (Article 8). You can read more about Joe’s human rights work here.

 

  • Kirsten, a single parent of an autistic son who has been held in mental health hospitals and subjected to restrictive practices, including mechanical restraint and long periods in seclusion. Kirsten has secured his discharge, with a bespoke package of care and he now lives happily and independently and is attending college. Kirsten told the Panel about how her son had experienced inhuman and degrading treatment (Article 3, HRA) and limits on private and family life (Article 8, HRA). This led her to see the importance of section 3 of the HRA in how the Mental Health Act (MHA) is applied and how decisions made under the MHA can be challenged if they are not compatible with convention rights. You can read what Kirsten shared in full here.

“Without the Human Rights Act, the Mental Health Act could trump people’s rights. The HRA means that MHA decisions can be challenged where not right-respecting. As a parent, the HRA gives you the legal framework to challenge decisions. Decisions around where someone is housed, contact with family, being turned away from services leaving a person at risk of harm. The JCHR recently referred to families as” “human rights defenders”. If you take away or dilute the HRA, you take away the tool to challenge for people and their families/loved ones.”

 

You can read write ups of the other 5 speakers who presented at the event in full here.

 

What was the outcome?

The Independent Review of the Human Rights Act Panel will publish the findings of their Review until in the summer 2021 and we will have to wait until that happens to understand the full impact of this roundtable.

However, through our evidence gathering, our comprehensive submission and our lived experience roundtable, a discussion which was previously often academic and legalistic, we were able to create space for the importance of the Human Rights Act, in people’s lives every day. Our interventions, alongside our partners, Liberty, allowed the voices of people who use the Human Rights Act outside of the courtrooms to be heard by the Panel.

Sarah’s and Fazeela’s stories made clear to the Panel, that when staff understand how the Human Rights Act Section 3 and 6 legal duties work, they form a useful tool for decision making and service delivery. Ensuring that services are as rights respecting as possible supports better outcomes for both staff and people accessing services. Ian, Joe and Kirsten’s stories show the importance of the Human Rights Act for people accessing services, their loved ones and carers.  All three stories made clear that if the Section 3 and 6 legal duties did not exist in their current form, they would not have been able to challenge the poor treatment they or their loved ones experienced.

We hope that now, when writing their report, the Panel will reflect on the importance of the Human Rights Act wider than its use in courtrooms, understanding it’s impact in the delivery of public services and what this means for people and their loved across the UK, every day.

If the Panel can see the value of the Act, in its current form and include this in their report, perhaps we will see the UK Government take into account the impact that any changes may have for Sarah, for Fazeela, for Ian, Kirsten and Jo and for all us. On understanding this impact, we hope to see the Government move away from commitments to reviewing and updating our Human Rights Act and towards making rights real for all of us, all the time.