Why our Human Rights Act Matters...to Black and minority ethnic communities
Nannette Youssef is Policy Officer at the Runnymede Trust. She works to raise awareness in Parliament of racial equality issues through supporting the drafting of policy publications as well as parliamentary stakeholder engagement and event coordination. She also provides support across research, communications and public engagement pieces.
Please note, this is a guest blog and views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of BIHR.
An onslaught of new legislation means that Black and minority ethnic people are now facing the most significant and sustained threat to their civil rights in recent memory. New and proposed legislation, including the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, Nationality and Borders Act, Elections Act, and Public Order Bill, risk deepening the social disparities suffered by minority groups and, together, jeopardise the rights of minority ethnic people to cast their ballots, engage in public protest and condemn every dual-national Briton to the threat of being stripped of their citizenship without due process or prior warning.
The extent of this legislative onslaught is breath-taking and follows pledges from Ministers to address the UK’s glaring racial disparities in the aftermath of the Windrush scandal and Black Lives Matter protests which shook the country. What we are now faced with is a far cry from that sentiment.
The Human Rights Act matters because it is one of the remaining protections of our rights, and in particular the rights of Black and minority ethnic communities for whom the Human Rights Act has played a fundamental role in progressing racial equality and justice.
At a time where 75% of Black people in the UK do not believe that their human rights are equally protected compared to white peoples’, our Human Rights Act has proved an effective tool for challenging the abuses facing Black and minority ethnic communities in our criminal justice system.
The charity INQUEST highlighted the vital role that our Human Rights Act plays for the rights of bereaved families in relation to a death in police custody - in strengthening the coronial process, ensuring greater scrutiny of circumstances surrounding death and strengthening the provisions for legal aid.
Alongside this, according to Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights, Article 5, the right to liberty, is fundamental in protecting the rights of Black people if “stop and search goes beyond the normal cursory stop and search”. Article 5 can also be used in conjunction with Article 14, the right to prohibition of discrimination, if stop and search continues to disproportionately impact Black and minority ethnic communities.
The Human Rights Act also provides important protections for migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, who are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations. In May 2021, a landmark judgement challenged the Home Office for charging a Windrush victim’s family for coming to live with her in Britain. This judgement was important in recognising the Home Office’s mistreatment of members of the Windrush generation, and relied on the Human Rights Act to do so. Indeed, the Court ruled that the Home Secretary had breached the claimant's rights to her private and family life (under Article 8) and Article 14 rights to protection from discrimination.
Our Human Rights Act matters because it guarantees that human rights and fundamental freedoms are applied without discrimination and has enabled people to secure their right simply to live without prejudice, and secure justice for those who were not afforded this right. Following cuts to legal aid and an ever-widening gap in access to justice, from which Black and minority ethnic people continue to be disproportionately impacted, our Human Rights Act is one of the few protections left for people to secure justice.
The, currently shelved, proposals from our previous government to replace our Human Rights Act with a new ‘Bill of Rights’ would instead dilute these few protections left, and create new barriers denying them effective means to enforce them and access their rights and secure justice. A new Bill of Rights would limit our ability to challenge things like Voter ID proposals, citizenship removal for those with ties elsewhere, or enforce the ECHR to question the legality of deporting refugees to Rwanda against the public will. It would actively hurt those communities who already have to fight for their rights, to belong, and to secure justice. The UK’s reputation as a champion of equality and human rights would dwindle as a result.
We are of course pleased to see these proposals postponed for review, but await to see whether the Bill of Rights will simply be replaced with similar, or even worse, legislation. As such, this would seem an appropriate moment to reiterate that one of the main duties of government is to protect its people from harm, and we expect this basic principle to be upheld by the Truss administration.
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