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The Rights Removal Bill is dead, long live the Human Rights Act

On Tuesday 27th June, we headed to parliament to discuss our Human Rights Act (HRA) - not in the “fight” mode so many of many of us have been forced into through government policy over the past two years, but instead to proactively shine a spotlight on how people across the UK are benefitting from our law in everyday life. We were celebrating one year since the establishment of our RITES Committee, which brings together people we’ve worked with on the HRA, so that the real-life experience of how it can support positive social change is amplified. It turns out we had even more to celebrate…  

The RITES Committee was established in 2022 as we saw the UK Government place its Bill of Rights Bill into parliament. A chilling time, in which a new law was being proposed to scrap our Human Rights Act, despite an independent expert review finding this was not necessary. Despite the Government’s own analysis that the thousands of public responses did not support the planned changes. Despite the governments of Scotland and Wales opposing these proposals. What was put to parliament in June 2022 was a system that would fundamentally reduce the protections of every person in the UK and make those with public power far less accountable for their actions. A “bill of rights” to essentially remove rights. Our RITES Committee is one of the many ways we’ve sought to mobilise and spotlight people’s lived experience, bringing it together with our legal and practical expertise to secure our Human Rights Act. 

At BIHR we know how unprincipled, unnecessary, and unworkable the Bill of Rights proposals were. This is because our work is focused on enabling people and community groups to understand our Human Rights Act and use it as part of their toolkit to advocate for change. And, working with the other side of the coin, we work with public bodies who have duties to uphold human rights, to increase their accountability for doing so. We see every single day, the genuine change our Human Rights Act is making for people in those small places, close to home (as coined by Eleanor Roosevelt). Too often the focus is solely on what goes to court – and whilst this is vital, it is only the tip of the iceberg. What we see every day are the ways that our Human Rights Act can enable people to speak up, to advocate, to challenge, and to change the way each of one of us is treated when public power is being wielded in everyday ways.  

So rather than marking one year since the Bill of Rights Bill process was started, in June 2023 we headed to parliament intent to tell that too often unheard or ignored story of our Human Rights Act – the one of our law in people’s everyday lives. I urge everyone reading this, to catch up on the event here. As several of the invitees shared, at a time when so many are weary from being in “fight” mode, it is the stories of change from people like our RITES Committee members that reenergise us with the hope to continue working to secure people’s human rights. You will read about Charli, a young person who was an inpatient in mental health hospitals and now trains staff on human rights and sees real lightbulb moments. Fairuz, at the women’s organisation challenging housing decisions and getting families the support, they need to be safe. Lucy, whose self-led learning disability group is speaking up and changing policies in local health and care. Ian, a parent, and carer who often relies on the law to get the dignified treatment his son needs. Danielle, reminding us of the importance of our human rights law both in the Northern Ireland peace process and in securing the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. And Catriona, sharing both her personal experiences as the parent of a disabled teenager with complex needs, and in IPSEA’s work to support young people with special educational needs.  

We had invited the new Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk, to join us; he politely informed us he was unable to attend. As it turned out, the Justice Secretary already had a date in parliament on 27th June 2023 to share something important about our Human Rights Act: just hours before our event, he confirmed that the Government will no longer be pursing the Bill of Rights Bill 

To say there was a moment of disbelief and joy across the BIHR team would be an understatement. There can be a temptation, when you have been working towards something with such intensity, to not take a step back and celebrate. Especially right now. There are elements of this Bill being replicated in other draft laws such as the Illegal Migration Bill and the Victims and Prisoners Bill. Through these we’re seeing attempts to reduce the human rights protections for certain groups of people – which is quite literally not the point, these are rights for all humans, as the name suggests. There is still so much work to be done. But there is still also the need to take a moment to take stock, and yes, to celebrate. If the Bill of Rights Bill had been pursued, and passed into law, we would have lost the very foundation for the protection of universal human rights for every single person in the UK. Seeing off this threat to our Human Rights Act means that we have secured that foundation, and it will be vital for future work to resist attempts to pick off legal protections for particular groups of people moving forward.  

Just as importantly, work to secure our Human Rights Act is not done. Our experience of mobilising people and groups, giving them the confidence to speak up, and to join together with hundreds of other organisations, shows this. There is still much to do to ensure people, community groups, and public bodies have the knowledge and confidence to be using, and to speaking up for, our Human Rights Act, not only in times of emergency, but as part of their everyday lives.  

Over the last few years, it has been quite something for BIHR, emerging from a pandemic where demand for our support to uphold human rights grew exponentially, to have to shift so drastically into mobilisation and upskilling to stop the law which protects us all from being scrapped. And to do so whilst continuing our practical work that shows the value of the Human Rights Act in everyday life. Quite something, but something so vital, so necessary, and ultimately, successful. Equally successful has been the solidarity and power that has been built across the mobilisation and joint actions with so many across civil society.  

So yes, there is much work to do, but it is also a moment for celebration. We have resisted the Rights Removal Bill, and the Government will no longer pursue it. Our Human Rights Act continues to stand for us all.  

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