As part of our 5-part action plan in response to the Government’s proposal to reform the Human Rights Act, we are running a series of events designed to educate, inform and unite people across our four main groups: people, communities, public bodies and policy-makers.

The first event of this series was an ‘Ask the Experts’ event on the 26th January. We had an amazing panel of experts, hearing from lawyers, people with lived experience and devolved voices.

You can read more about our panel here.

Our Trustee and event chair, Joe Powell, began by explaining why it is so important that we understand what is happening and what is at risk in these proposals.

Our first speaker for the evening was Professor Francesca Klug OBE. As a Senior Research Fellow at King's College London Law School she advised the Government on devising and implementing the 1998 Human Rights Act. Professor Klug urged us to “throw away [our] legal textbooks” and explored some of the history of the Human Rights Act.

Professor Klug explored what it was like to live in a democracy with no bill of rights and no means to challenge decisions, policies, or the law on the grounds that it breached our rights. She made it clear that the Human Rights Act is a bill of rights in everything but the name.

You can read our short guide to the Human Rights Act and ideas such as parliamentary sovereignty here.

Professor Klug also warned of some of the dangers of the Government's proposals. Hear more about these here:


Our next speaker was Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty. Martha gave us an overview of the political context of the consultation. This includes bills such as the Nationality and Borders Bill, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Elections Bill, and the Judicial Review Bill.

Read more about these bills here.

Martha highlighted five key threats within the Government’s proposals. Firstly, ”tampering” with Article 8 will not just impact immigration; restricting Article 8 for one group will lead to the restriction of Article 8 and human rights protections for everyone.

You can read more about Article 8 here.

Martha next discussed the impact the proposals may have on positive obligations. These are the obligations that are included in rights such as Article 2, the Right to Life and Article 3, the Right to Be Free from Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment. These obligations mean that public bodies have to take proactive steps to make sure that people don’t suffer human rights violations. These obligations have been used in cases such as Worboys and the Hillsborough inquest.

You can read more about Article 2 and Article 3 here.

Another concern is changes to the principle of proportionality. Proportionality is used to balance the rights of individuals with the needs of the community. The consultation suggests this balance should be changed to further take into account the interests of the State. This could particularly impact minorities and marginalised groups. Martha was also concerned about the restrictions to remedies. The proposals suggest that a person’s behaviour across their whole life should be relevant when deciding remedies. Martha spoke about the recent Spy Cops case in which damages were awarded for the breach of human rights. These proposals may restrict the ability of courts to award damages in cases such as these.

Finally, the proposals suggested that there should be a requirement that people have to show ‘significant disadvantage’ for all human rights claims. Martha described this as creating an obstacle in the ability of ordinary people to hold the State to account.

You can read our plain language explainer on the Government’s consultation here.

Next, we heard from Charli Clement, a Lived Experience Expert Consultant at BIHR. Charli spent three months on a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Unit at the age of 15. Charli spoke about how young people in CAMHS learn their rights on the spot and how the Human Rights Act is hugely important to inpatients, including Article 1 Protocol 1. Charli discussed the use of chemical and physical restraint which are sometimes seen as “inherent to admission” but shouldn’t be.

Charli talked about the impact of the Human Rights Act on inpatient care, including the responsibilities it puts on staff to look at patients as individuals and empower them. Charli stressed that it is important to properly enforce the Human Rights Act in inpatient units, for both staff and patients.

Read Charli’s blog here: Why our Human Rights Act Matters to Me as an ex-inpatient on a CAMHS ward.

Our next speaker was Mhairi Snowden from the Human Rights Consortium Scotland. Mhairi highlighted three key concerns from the Scottish perspective. Firstly, in Scotland, people want more rights, not less. They are discussing including more rights, such as children’s rights, economic and social rights, disability rights and women’s rights into their law, rather than restricting rights.

Mhairi explored how the Human Rights Act is a devolved matter and that the UK Parliament needs consent from the Scottish Parliament to make any changes to the Human Rights Act. Finally, Mhairi highlighted the lack of concern in the Consultation for how the proposals may impact on devolved areas, increasing legal uncertainty and having a negative impact on access to justice.

Next, Brian Gormally from the Centre of Administrative Justice spoke about the importance of the Human Rights Act from a Northern Irish context, discussing the impact that human rights had following the Troubles. Brian highlighted that the Human Rights Act is essential to public bodies, in particular the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Brian referred to a number of worrying proposed changes which impact on the accountability of state actors. Given Northern Ireland’s history, this could be hugely impactful on peace agreements. Brian stressed the importance of the Human Rights Act as part of the Good Friday Agreement.


We then heard from BIHR’s CEO, Sanchita Hosali. Sanchita spoke about how at BIHR, we see how the Human Rights Act supports people across the UK to live more equal and dignified lives and helps to ensure that accountability isn't just a word on paper, but an everyday experience. We want to amplify the voices of the people we work with in our response to this consultation. Last year, we worked with 4000 people directly and found that when people know what the Human Rights Act is and how they can use it, it becomes a great tool to make real, lasting and positive change. Sanchita was clear that the key issue in these proposals is that all the different ways we can access, use and benefit from the rights contained in the ECHR are going to be weakened. That is why we need to speak up about Why Our Human Rights Act matters now.

Read our blog series on Why Our Human Rights Act Matters here.

Our final speaker was Baroness Helena Kennedy QC. Baroness Kennedy is the Director to the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. She was part of the previous Commission on a Bill of Rights. Baroness Kennedy was one of two members of the Commission who opposed the proposals in 2012. Baroness Kennedy highlighted the dangers of restricting Article 8 because of immigration, suggesting that it creates another level of people who are more at risk if they were born abroad.

Baroness Kennedy discussed the reaction to the Human Rights Act when it was first introduced, with opposition from those who saw rights for some groups as a bad thing.


Baroness Kennedy suggested that if you start removing the rights for one group, it will result in an attack on all of our rights.

 

We then moved on to the Q & A section of the evening. The first question asked whether there is any merit to the UK Government’s criticism of the Human Rights Act.

Our CEO Sanchita responded to this question:

Professor Klug highlighted the findings in the report of the Independent Review of the Human Rights Act:

You can read more about the Independent Review of the Human Rights Act here.

 

The next question was about what we can do. Mhairi answered this and stressed that the most important thing we can all do is respond- we need lots of responses and we need loud responses.

 

The final question asked how the proposed reforms may impact public bodies and how people with a learning disability can get involved.

Sanchita emphasised the importance of the duty under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act and how this duty needs to be protected.


Charli stressed the importance of education and making sure accessible resources are available.

Our next event is an Easy Read workshop on the changes to the Human Rights Act on Tuesday 8th February

Register here for this workshop.

 

At BIHR, we are committed to amplifying the voices of people who may not otherwise be heard. We have created a survey to gather your views on the consultation.

Click here to complete this survey.

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