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Alex Chalk is the new Justice Secretary

This blog was first sent out to our Rights Removal Bill mailing list. Join the mailing list to be the first get updates on our work and UK human rights reform.

Dominic Raab has been replaced by Alex Chalk as Justice Secretary

On 21st April 2023, Dominic Raab announced that he was resigning as Justice Secretary after an inquiry that investigated complaints that he had bullied team members found “he acted in a way which was intimidating, in the sense of unreasonably and persistently aggressive conduct” and “abuse or misuse of power in a way that undermines or humiliates”. 

Dominic Raab has been widely considered the driving force behind the Rights Removal Bill, with the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights saying, “it would be fair to say the Bill of Rights is very much [his] baby”. When he was briefly replaced by Brandon Lewis in September 2022, the Bill was immediately shelved and it has not yet proceeded to Second Reading despite the Justice Secretary’s insistence that he was keen to progress. 

While this change in Ministers could be a positive step towards scrapping the Rights Removal Bill and protecting our Human Rights Act, the Bill still remains on the Parliamentary timetable and the new Justice Secretary has not yet made any statements as to its future. 

The new Justice Secretary: Alex Chalk

Although he hasn’t made clear his stance on the Rights Removal Bill, Alex Chalk is on record saying that he “very much supports” the European Convention on Human Rights and "what the Court does, and the rulings that it provides, overwhelmingly contribute to human rights in this country and to the quality of our public discourse and democracy". This is perhaps not surprising given his career as a barrister and Solicitor General, and his stated belief that the “rule of law matters [for] a fair, free and ordered society” (find out Why Our Human Rights Act Matters for the Rule of Law in our guest blog from Public Law Project). Chalk also worked as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Robert Buckland when Buckland was the Justice Secretary. Buckland has described the Rights Removal Bill as “worse than useless” and sewing “seeds of danger”. 

However, as our CEO said when the Bill was first shelved, “this is good news [but] caution must be our response.” At that time, we wrote a blog exploring what might happen next. One possibility was that “separate legislative proposals may be introduced to Parliament, which seek to make changes similar to those contained in the Rights Removal Bill.” Since then, the Government has introduced the Illegal Migration Bill (better known as the Refugee Ban Bill) and the Victim & Prisoners Bill that appear to do just that. Both Bills contain concerning clauses about removing Section 3 of the Human Rights Act that mirror some of the most dangerous parts of the Rights Removal Bill. 

Joint Letter on Section 3 of the Human Rights Act

Section 3 of our Human Rights Act means that government and the public bodies making decisions about our lives must apply other laws and policies in a way which respects our human rights, as far as it is possible to do so. We call it, “the interpretive obligation”. This applies to the courts but also to public authorities acting under the power of other laws such as the Mental Health Act 1983. This also means that when the law gives public officials a choice, they must choose the option that respects human rights. We call this “looking at laws through a human rights lens". This helps other laws work well in practice and makes sure that our laws continue to respect human rights as society changes.  

Yet the UK Government tried to remove Section 3’s protections from everyone through its Rights Removal Bill – and has now attempted to write it out of the Refugee Ban Bill and the Victims & Prisoners Bill.  

We have serious concerns about what this would mean for human rights protections for everyone in the UK. Through our work with people, communities and systems, we’ve seen how important Section 3 is in helping public body workers make rights-respecting decisions and helping people accessing services advocate for themselves. 

On 19th April 2023, we led a group of 46 civil society organisations in writing to the JCHR explaining our concerns and urging them to: 

  • take a watching brief on this matter;
  • raise this issue in Parliament as appropriate, including in letters and evidence sessions with relevant Ministers; and
  • be alert to similar provisions when conducting all inquiries and legislative scrutiny

What next?

With the Refugee Ban Bill being rushed through Parliament and the Rights Removal Bill still on the timetable with the potential to be picked up at any point, there’s still lots of work to do to protect our human rights in law and in practice.  

We look forward to contacting the new Justice Secretary to share stories of Why Our Human Rights Act Matters to people every day and to urge him to stand firm on our human rights protections. 

You can join the call to stand up for our human rights by writing to your MP using our template letter. 

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