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Queen's Speech 2022: Knowledge is Power

On Tuesday 10th May, the Government set out its plans for the upcoming parliamentary year in the Queen’s Speech and Lobby Pack. The Government confirmed it wants to introduce a new Bill that would replace our Human Rights Act – making it more important than ever for us to protect it. But the Government gave very little information in its speech, making it hard for people to engage and have their say.

This worsens the problems we saw with the inaccessible Human Rights Act Reform Consultation Paper. Some people who responded to our survey said it seemed “from a particular agenda masquerading as objecting and educative” and others found it “full of legal jargon to frighten and bamboozle people”.

The presence of online disinformation (deliberately false or manipulated information designed to mislead people) and misinformation (when false information is accidentally shared) can make it even harder to feel fully informed but, like our CEO, Sanchita, says, people won’t be fooled. We’ve put together some tools and events to boost your confidence and knowledge on our Human Rights Act as well as a list of things to look out for to help you spot misleading information.

Over on our Twitter page, you’ll find a pinned post summarising our five key concerns right now about what could be in the Bill. These are based on the proposals the Government put forward in its Consultation.

Building up your own confidence and subject matter knowledge is one of the best ways to avoid misinformation. Here are some other signs to look out for:

Tricky wording: when a sentence is technically correct but deliberately phrased in a way to make people take away a message that isn’t.

For example, in the Queen’s Speech Lobby Pack, the Government said: “Establishing the primacy of UK case law, clarifying there is no requirement to follow the Strasbourg case law.”

This is listed as an “element” of the Bill, which makes it sound like a change that will be introduced by the new Bill. However, the word “clarifying” reveals that it isn’t. The Human Rights Act does not place an obligation on courts to follow Strasbourg case law. Even if the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)has decided an issue differently to the Supreme Court, UK courts will follow the Supreme Court's decision unless and until it makes a different decision.

This means there’s no change for the Bill to make; it can only “clarify” or restate rules that already exist. It is a rule that has already been clarified a number of times through case law, such as in the recent case of Pinnock, when the Supreme Court said, “section 2 of the HRA requires our courts to “take into account” ECtHR decisions, not necessarily to follow them.”

Skewed statistics: when “facts” are made up of cherry-picked examples or numbers or aren’t upfront about the source of the data.

For example, in the Queen’s Speech Lobby Pack, the Government said: “An estimated 70 per cent of foreign national offenders who had their deportation overturned in the last five years on human rights grounds in the First Tier Tribunal did so due to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Right to Family Life).”

The Government says this statistic is based on a “random sample of 296 First Tier Tribunal cases from a total of 1,011 relevant cases”.

The use of “70%” makes this sound like a significant number, but it’s important to remember that there are a lot of caveats: it’s not 70% of all appeals or even all appeals that are won. It’s only 70% of the cases that have been won on human rights grounds.

Government statistics show 7137 appeals were made by foreign national offenders at the First Tier Tribunal between April 2016 and June 2021. Only 2157 of these were allowed (or won) and only 922 were allowed on human rights grounds. This means that only 12% of the appeals lodged were won on human rights grounds. If 70% of those were won based on Article 8, as estimated by the Government, that would be around 655 cases. This is just 9% of the number of appeals lodged.

Government statistics also show that 26,232 “foreign national offenders” were removed from the UK between 2016 and 2020 – 40 times more people than estimated to have won their appeals on human rights grounds.

Vague declarations: sweeping statements that aren’t backed up or ambitious goals with no plan for how to reach them.

For example, in the Queen’s Speech Lobby Pack, the Government said: “The Bill will extend and apply across the UK.” 

This statement makes it look like the Bill will be inclusive of all the countries of the UK – but there’s no detail outlining how the Government intends to introduce it in devolved nations. The Governments of Scotland and Wales have already made statements expressing their concerns about the Bill and civil society groups have said the reforms threaten the delicate peace agreement under the Good Friday Agreement.

In its recent consultation on Human Rights Act reform, the Government only asked one question about devolution. In an address to the Commons Northern Ireland select committee in 2019, the Justice Secretary also said he had not “started at the beginning and gone through” the Good Friday Agreement.

Convenient omissions: limited information that supports an argument without context or nuance.

For example, in the Queen’s Speech Lobby Pack, the Government said: “My Ministers will restore the balance of power between the legislature and the courts by introducing a Bill of Rights”.

This statement talks about what the UK Government is introducing but conveniently avoids what they’re removing ie our Human Rights Act. This is particularly relevant given that our Human Rights Act already balances powers between the legislature and the court. It empowers ordinary people to bring a case against the Government if their rights are breached and to have the Government’s actions judged by our independent courts – rather than the Government itself.

Contradictory statements: statements that come from the same person or publication yet conflict with each other.

For example, in the Queen’s Speech Lobby Pack, the Government said: “Reducing unnecessary litigation and avoiding undue risk aversion for bodies delivering public services” and “the Prison Service in England and Wales faced successful legal challenges from over 600 prisoners on human rights grounds.”

With the first statement, the UK Government seems to imply that cases being brought against bodies delivering public services are “unnecessary” and that those services are being needlessly cautious. However, in the second statement, it reveals that there have been 600 successful challenges brought against the Prison Service. That the cases were successful implies that the actions by the Prison Service were unlawful and that human rights were breached, so the cases were necessary to ensure this was remedied.

We’re expecting more announcements about the Government’s proposed Bills and will continue to provide information, resources and tools to help you sort fact from fiction. As we always say at BIHR, knowledge is power and the Human Rights Act is all about putting power in the hands of ordinary people.

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Research & Communications Associate

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