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Members of Parliament Question the Justice Secretary

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab and his team of Ministers were questioned by Members of Parliament in the House of Commons on Tuesday 10 January. The Bill of Rights Bill (better known as the “Rights Removal Bill”), which seeks to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), was one of the topics of questioning. You can  read more about the Bill and its potentially dangerous and discriminatory impact in our Rights Removal Bill hub here.  

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Has the Rights Removal Bill Been Shelved?

When asked by Munira Wilson, Liberal Democrat MP whether he still plans to replace the HRA with a Bill of Rights, Raab responded with a formulaic answer which we have heard before: ‘The Government were elected with a manifesto to reform human rights. We have published the Bill of Rights, and we will bring it forward for Second Reading as soon as parliamentary time allows.’ Wilson pushed further, suggesting that the truth of the matter was that the Prime Minister had shelved the Bill yet again, a point to which Raab did not directly respond.  

Violence Against Women and Girls and Leaving the ECHR

Stuart C McDonald, Scottish National Party MP drew attention to former Victim Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird’s, concerns that the Bill would harm women by affecting their ‘ability to drive the police to do better’ (which you can read more about in our positive obligations briefing here) and by shattering any potential positive impact of the Victim’s Bill. He then asked the Justice Secretary if he would ‘listen to victims and their representatives and abandon his plans, which undermine them?’ Raab responded that the Bill ‘will actually help victims of crime, not least by enabling us to deport more foreign national offenders’. This response highlights a further major concern surrounding the Bill, its disregard the principle of universality. You can read more about the principle which ensures that human rights belong to us all and how the Justice Secretary's Bill changes that here. 

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McDonald, not satisfied with the response Raab offered to his initial question, stated that the answer ‘completely misunderstands how important convention case law has been in helping to protect victims of violence against women and girls.’ He went on to highlight that ‘in various December appearances, neither the Secretary of State nor the Prime Minister could bring themselves to rule out complete withdrawal from the European Convention altogether, which would be a disaster for victims.’ He then asked the Justice Secretary to categorically rule out withdrawal from the Convention, to which Raab responded that ‘withdrawal is not off the table forever and a day for the future, and that remains the Government’s position.’ This stance is deeply concerning. You can read about how the European Convention and its associated court works to protects UK citizens here.

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Disability Rights

Marion Fellows, Scottish National Party MP asked Raab whether ‘he considered the impact of his Bill of Rights proposals on disabled people and organisations who consistently use the HRA consistently in their fight to ensure disabled people are treated humanely and equitably to ensure they receive the same health treatments routinely given to the rest of the population?’. In response, Raab stated that ‘[t]here is nothing in our Bill of Rights that will impact on the health care that disabled individuals or communities will receive.’ Well, this is simply not the case.

For UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Marion Fellows MP shared Bryn’s story in Parliament. She explained that by destroying positive obligations, the Rights Removal Bill ‘allows public bodies to refuse to act to safeguard people like Bryn, and to raise financial resources or operational priorities as the reasoning behind not taking action.’ She highlighted concerns that ‘public officials will not take proactive steps to protect disabled people from harm, due to discriminatory attitudes or the resources required to protect that person, and that the Rights Removal Bill removes accountability for that.’ You can watch the full clip of Fellows’ speech here. You can read a one page summary of exactly how Justice Secretary’s Bill will disproportionately impact disabled people here.

Racism, Immigration and Universality

Joanna Cherry KC MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), also posed a question, though not on the Bill specifically. She pointed out that ‘human rights are universal’ and that in the JCHR’s 11th report entitled “Black People, Racism and Human Rights” which was published more than two years ago, the Committee stated that it expects ‘the Government to fulfil its promises to implement the recommendations from the Wendy Williams’ Lessons Learned Review as a matter of urgency.’ She then asked whether we can ‘take it that the delay in implementing the recommendations and reports that some of them are now to be ditched are indicative of the fact that the Government are unconcerned whether their forthcoming immigration legislation is human rights compliant?’ Sarah Dines MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department, replied that ‘it is absolutely not the case that the Government haven’t treated this issue with urgency, when you deal with serious issues you have to have a detailed, reliable response. You can’t just rush ahead with something that won’t work. This Government is committed to doing everything that is right’. You can read about how the Justice Secretary’s Bill will disproportionately impact Black and minority ethnic communities here in our blog by Runnymede Trust

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What can you do?

If the Government really is committed to doing everything right, it is time for it to formally withdraw the Rights Removal Bill from the parliamentary timetable. Raab’s responses to the above questions highlight that the Bill continues to be an unashamed power-grab, designed to place this Government far from anything resembling accountability. So, let’s hold this Government to account. Write to your MP using this template letter today and tell them why they must resist the Rights Removal Bill and stand firm on our Human Rights Act. 

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Parliamentary & Policy Assistant

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