At the British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR), our mission is to create social justice through human rights advocacy and approaches. Our aim is shared with the aim of our Human Rights Act, to create a culture of respect for human rights across the UK, explained by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights as a culture which “fosters basic respect for human rights and creates a climate in which such respect becomes an integral part of our way of life and a reference point for our dealing with public authorities and each other.”

We inspire, enable and sustain this change through our Human Rights Act together with:  

  • People: empowering them to know and claim their rights ensuring they are treated with dignity, respect and without discrimination when interacting with public services
  • Community, Advocacy and Campaigning groups: supporting them to use human rights law in campaigning for social justice
  • Staff working in public bodies and bodies delivering public functions, like care and education: supporting accountability through building their capacity to use human rights law in their practice every day.
  • Policy and decision makers: amplifying the stories of people using the HRA in practice and bringing the voices of those whose rights are impacted into policy debates.

Our Human Rights Act is central to everything we do at BIHR as we strive for social justice across the UK. It’s a crucial piece of legislation which when understood and implemented, has the power (more so than any other single piece of legislation in my opinion) to move us towards a society in which everyone is treated with dignity, respect and without discrimination.

Human Rights Act Reform

On the 14th December 2021, the Government published a Report by the Independent Human Rights Act Review and alongside the Report, released a new consultation paper setting out that they plan to replace our Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights.

This has caused widespread concern and frustration across civil society in the UK, for many reasons. Widespread frustration because it appears that our government has largely ignored its own Independent Review into our HRA. Rather than reflecting (or arguably even reading) the evidence provided by thousands of people and organisations, the Ministry of Justice has instead released a consultation which proposes not amending the HRA (which is what the Review looked into) but instead replacing it with a Bill of Rights. 

Put simply, the government intends to largely ignore a public consultation and the recommendations of a Panel of independent experts (put together by the government itself) and instead appears to be basing the case for reform on the same arguments the new Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, put forward in his 2009 book ‘An Assault on Liberty’.

Widespread concern because the government is suggesting rewriting the law which sets rules on the power of the state and provides minimum standards for how people should be treated when interacting with the state, and domestic legal remedy when this doesn’t happen.

We’ve covered what’s happened, how we got here and our concerns in more detail in other recent pieces. The focus of this piece is to share what actions we’ll be taking at BIHR and how you can get involved to ensure your voice is heard.

More information on the plans for reforms can be found below: 

  

     1. We will help our 4 key groups to understand what’s happening. Knowledge is power!

The government’s plans for reform of our HRA were published in a consultation paper on the 14th December 2021. A date in the lead up to winter holidays. A date when people and public services deal with rapidly increasing Covid cases. A date when human rights campaigners struggle to contend with a raft of concerning legal changes such as the Nationality and Borders Bill.and the Police, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

The Human Rights Act is about people and public bodies and the power relationships between the two. Lots of the people we work with and support at BIHR who would ordinarily be responding to a consultation on our HRA are people accessing services, community and campaigning groups and people delivering services. A high percentage of those within health and care settings but also those interacting with housing, education, prisons and more who are, at the moment, facing crisis.

If the Government’s intention really is to consult with people, it is hard to see how their timing could be any worse. As we grapple with a new variant of Covid-19, in a continued public health emergency (where our Human Rights Act has provided a vital safety net), it is clear that many will struggle to engage with this “consultation” on the future protection of our fundamental rights.

We want to support people to understand what’s happening in accessible ways so that they can make their own mind up about the government’s plans and have their voice heard. We’ve therefore prepared:

If you or your organisation has created any resources about Human Rights Act reform you’d like us to share, please send them to our RCA, Helen on [email protected]

     2. We will continue to help our 4 key groups to understand how the Human Rights Act works

We have been concerned with some of the evidence for HRA reform explained by government Ministers, most notably, our Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab. Writing in the Times newspaper and speaking in the House of Commons, on Tuesday 14th December, Raab again relied on a specific immigration case from over a decade ago in making his case for reform of our HRA. He left out the fact that the law has since changed, the “problem” he refers to has been fixed.

In the Commons, Raab also focused on our right to Freedom of Expression, which is Article 10 of our Human Rights Act (and our ECHR, you can read about the relationship between the two laws here). He said that the right is weighted towards preventing expression and stops us from saying things, “simply because others don’t want to hear them.” This is not how the Human Rights Act works and like so many with power who attack the law, these kinds of statements rely on the public and others to not have the knowledge of how qualified rights work and the confidence to challenge such assertions.

We want to support people to understand how our Human Rights Act works to empower people to challenge misinformation with knowledge, confidence and evidence. We’ve therefore created some new resources and are re-sharing lots of our relevant existing resources:

     3. We will bring our 4 key groups together to learn, discuss and plan joint campaigning

We plan to run a series of workshops, bringing our 4 key groups together to get people up to speed on what’s happened, why it matters and how you can ensure your voice is heard.

We will run these workshops in the new year, creating a space for people, communities, public officials and policy professionals to come together to:

  • Find out more about HRA reforms
  • Share concerns
  • Find out how you can be involved in BIHR’s response
  • Plan for any joint action

They say that if you want to go quickly go alone, if you want to go far, go together. We need to do both of these things now, with the consultation closing on the 8th of March. We’d love to deliver these with partners, combining expertise and networks. We are actively welcoming organisations who share our goals to support this upskilling; to work with us to deliver this workshop, get in touch with [email protected]. To attend a workshop, register your interest here. *Once we know levels of interest we will decide how many events we need and who we work with to run these most effectively for those who’d like to come along.

     4. We will continue to gather and share stories about Why Our Human Rights Act Matters

When asked about the drivers for HRA reform in the Commons on Tuesday 14th, Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab explained that,  “the driver was people” of this country who are fed up with the Act “being misused to protect dangerous foreign criminals.”  He went on to talk about the burden of the positive obligation that the Act puts on public bodies to protect rights.

Our experience at BIHR, working directly with over 4,000 people, community groups and public bodies in 2021 alone, is that this isn’t the case. People, communities and policy professionals value our Human Rights Act as a powerful legal, as well as an advocacy tool for ensuring the policy and delivery of public services respects and protects rights. Public bodies value our HRA as a practical decision-making tool to help them make rights-respecting decisions every day.

But don’t just take our word for it. The Independent Human Rights Act Review, the Report the government was to base this consultation on sets this out in no uncertain terms:

 “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).  

Indeed, since the government’s announcements, we’ve seen nothing but resistance to the plans from civil society across the UK. To include just a few:

We want to continue to amplify these voices with decision-makers, importantly with MP’s when the time comes to vote on any Bill to reform the HRA.

  • You can read and share why the Act matters for people like Kirsten and Ian, who used the Act to advocate for change in their loved ones care and support; for Rani Selvarajah in campaigning to end violence against women and girls, for Danielle Roberts, in her work to empower, support and advocates for all lesbian and bisexual women and their families. For Kameena in securing children’s rights. For social workers like Daisy and mental health nurses like Paul.
  • You can join our campaign, write us a blog or send us a picture telling us why the act matters to you. Read their voices and more here.

     5. We will submit our own response to the government’s consultation which amplifies the voices of people we work with

We want to support people and organisations to submit their own responses to consultations which impact their rights. However, we also understand the pressures on civil society and that responding to continuous reviews and inquiries without time, resource or accountability on the part of those running reviews creates its own challenges.  We look at this issue in detail in our government consultation project.

At the start of next year, we will begin running an engagement campaign to gather your views on the government’s consultation which we will include in our response.

We will do this through:

  • Partnership events
  • Accessible surveys
  • Interactive tools
  • Workshops

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