14 December 2021  TAKE ACTION NOW AND JOIN US: Sign up to our campaign list and be the first to support our upcoming actions to show political leaders why our Human Rights Act Matters

Eleven hours after publishing a piece in The Times about imminent plans to “overhaul” our Human Rights Act, alongside the long-awaited independent report on our law, the Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab MP, finally published the detail of the Government’s “consultation”. I do however use the word “consultation” loosely as there is barely a pretence of seeking views on whether there is a case for reform. Instead, what has been presented ignores the reams of evidence that have been gathered as part of the Independent Review of our Human Rights Act, which sent the clear message that there is no case for change.

 

Indeed, the Review’s report itself acknowledges “The vast majority of submissions received by IHRAR spoke strongly in support of the HRA. They pointed to its impact in improving public administration for individuals, through developing a human rights culture. Thus, the HRA was not, or not just, to be viewed through the prism of a few high-profile cases or indeed with a focus on litigation at all.’ (Page 16, para 46).  

 

In addition to repeatedly flagging the overwhelmingly strong support for our Human Rights Act, the recommendations in the Review’s report focus more on shedding light on the current practices in courts to enable greater transparency and analysis, rather than calling for sweeping reforms. So now it is clear why the Review’s report has been buried from public view these past months; it does not support today’s proposals from the Government. Proposals which give the appearance of keeping the same rights whilst attempting to drive a coach and horses through the very ways in which these rights protect each and every one of us across the UK. The “problems” identified in the Government’s consultation centre on technicalities which at times bear little resemblance to reality, with a hodgepodge of selective case law and legal theory, and a romanticisation of the UK’s history, as some sort of licence to remove us from universal standards with the accountability needed to limit the power of government.

 

Because at its heart, our Human Rights Act, like all human rights law, is about power and people. It is about putting limits on the power of the Government and public bodies. It is about empowering ordinary people. It is about ensuring accountability so that the no one, including the Government is above the law. So of course, all governments will find human rights law inconvenient at times – let’s face it, few of us respond well to being told when we can’t do something we want. What is happening here is something quite different, and I fear it is both disingenuous and dark. We are being distracted with technical terminology, partial interpretations of the current positions, supposed tweaks to language that would in fact have wide-ranging effects on all of us, and all with assertions of “evidence” that don’t stand up to basic scrutiny.

 

Our Human Rights Act is our Bill of Rights in all but name. It sets out the rights every person in the UK has, based not only what is gifted to us by the powerful, but based on universal human rights standards. These go hand in hand with duties that fall on government and public bodies to uphold these rights in practice, with accountability mechanisms that recognise the separate and important roles of parliament and the courts. Whilst judges cannot change the law, the courts decide if people’s human rights have been breached. Under the Human Rights Act it has always been for Parliament to change the law if it so chooses. Our Human Rights Act was designed to specifically respect the democratic system we have in the UK, from devolution to parliamentary sovereignty.

 

Like all good bills of rights, our Human Rights Act is not simply a question of legal technicalities. It is about supporting ordinary people to be heard and to reach respectful, dignified decisions that matter in everyday life, whether that is in education or housing, health or care, the local council, or a national regulator. Sadly, this lived experience is rarely part of the debate in the UK, conveniently ignored as we can see in today’s announcement.

 

These real life stories of how our Human Rights Act is working for people here at home must be heard. People like Kirsten, who was afraid every minute of the day when her 14-year-old son spent almost 4 years in mental health units where he was mechanically restrained with handcuffs and leg restraints, secluded in cells for long periods of time As Kirsten says: “our Human Rights Act is a way to protect all of us …If you dilute the Human Rights Act, you take away the tool to challenge for people and their families and loved ones.  As a parent, the Human Rights Act gave me the legal framework to challenge decisions. This was so important for me as a parent facing the weight of professionals who seemed to have so much power over mine and my son’s lives.  I used the Human Rights Act to make timely and meaningful change to my own son’s care and treatment. Some of the challenges I made led to my involvement in changing national policies, particularly around the use of seclusion and segregation with children.”

 

So here we are, just days after CEOs of more than 150 organisations from across the UK called on the Prime Minister to secure our Human Rights Act, the person responsible for justice matters in our country is setting us on a path which will see everyone’s rights suffer. Now is the time for us all to show why our Human Rights Act matters; it is down to individuals, civil society, public servants, academics, lawyers, and us all to show the leadership we need. Now.

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Visit our Why Our Human Rights Act Matters pages to see stories and evidence from people across the UK on how they are benefiting from the law, this includes the following: