News from BIHR

We attended a Ministry of Justice roundtable and called on them to make the notes public

On Thursday 17th February 2022, our CEO, Sanchita, and our Head of Policy & Programmes, Carlyn, took part in a Ministry of Justice roundtable about their planned changes to the Human Rights Act. Participants were asked to share two key points about the changes. Sanchita explained that before we can dissect the Government’s proposals and the 29 questions in the Consultation Paper, there are two practical points that need to be addressed:

  • Consultation on the Human Rights Act has already happened in the form of the recent Independent Human Rights Act Review. Charities and individuals put a lot of time and effort into responding to that Review and the findings were clear that no changes are needed.
  • This Consultation seems to be a clear reduction in rights because despite retaining the same list of rights, it will reduce their meaning and accessibility as well as the Government’s accountability when they’re breached.

The Ministry of Justice has stated that this is one of a series of roundtables going on into early March that are part of their consultation process. However, there are no current plans to publish the responses or meeting notes, and the list of invitees will not be made public.

In the interest of transparency, BIHR has written to the Ministry of Justice asking for a written note of the meeting to be made publicly available. The letter was submitted jointly with UNISON, WCVA and Social Work Scotland, who also attended the roundtable.

Click here to hear Sanchita explain our key points from the roundtable and read our joint letter.

We spoke to the National Union of Journalists about Human Rights Act reform

On Thursday 25th February 2022, Carlyn spoke to the National Union of Journalists about reporting on the Human Rights Act. She highlighted some of our key concerns about the Government’s current Consultation on “overhauling” the Act, including that it lacks evidence to support many of its proposals; the Consultation Paper is inaccessible to many; and it ignores the information recently gathered by the Independent Human Rights Act Review.

Carlyn also discussed the implications of the Government’s proposed reforms on freedom of expression and what this could mean for journalism and the freedom of the media to report on actions by the State. She finished with our top tips for journalists, including using the Act to hold the Government to account and telling the stories of real people impacted by human-rights law.

We partnered with Stop People Dying Too Young on a joint letter about Do Not Resuscitate decision-making

In November 2021, the Care Quality Commission (CQC). published an interim report on Do Not Resuscitate decisions made during the COVID-19 pandemic. It found these decisions were not made in-line with people’s human rights and that certain people were affected more than others. This included people with a learning disability, older people, people with dementia and people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.

In May 2021, the Government set up the Ministerial Oversight Group on Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (MOG). The MOG’s job is to oversee the implementation of changes recommended by the CQC. However, nobody from the most affected groups has been made a member of the MOG.

On Wednesday 24th February 2022, Stop People Dying Too Young published an open letter created in collaboration with Difference North East, Learning Disability England and BIHR. The letter calls on the MOG to make people from the most affected groups full and equal members so they can provide much-needed insight and lived expertise.

Click here to read the letter and join the campaign.

We talked to the Scottish Recovery Consortium about human rights in advocacy

Our Human Rights Officer, Natalie, and Assistant Human Rights Officer, Katie, met with the Scottish Recovery Consortium to talk about how the Human Rights Act can be used in advocacy. We had a great time discussing how rights-based approaches can be embedded and their team told us they came away feeling “more knowledgeable and confident on the topic of Human Rights”.

Click here to read more about our Rights in Recovery programme

News from elsewhere

Police holding data about inaccurate allegations was found to breach the right to private life

Two allegations were made against a man with autism for inappropriate touching of a female passenger on a train. The judge found that these incidents were not sexually motivated, and the police report did not accurately reflect the man’s neurodivergence. It found that holding this data, which was inaccurate and disproportionate, was a breach of the man’s Article 8 right to private life and ordered that the police erase the data. It also made an award for damages for the distress caused.

Source: Exchange Chambers

The Supreme Court held that people under investigation have a right to privacy

The respondent in this case was an American citizen living in the UK and the Chief Executive of a public company. In 2016, UK law enforcement wrote to American law enforcement, asking for assistance investigating the respondent for potential crimes of bribery and corruption. The letter asked for the letter to remain confidential so as not to jeopardise the investigation. However, Bloomberg Media got a copy of the letter and published an article about it.

The respondent initially brought a claim for a breach of his Article 8 right to privacy and the court found in his favour. Bloomberg Media appealed to the Court of the Appeal and to the Supreme Court but they both dismissed the case and found in the respondent’s favour. They said that a “person under criminal investigation has, prior to being charged, a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of information relating to that investigation.”

Source: Supreme Court

The Scottish Human Rights Commission criticised the Equality & Human Rights Commission for not seeking their consent before advising on gender recognition law

On Wednesday 26th January 2022, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released a letter advising against Gender Recognition Act reform in Scotland without “more detailed consideration.”

On Thursday 24th February 2022, the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) issued a statement saying that the EHRC did not get their consent before giving this advice, despite being required to do so under Section 7 of the Equality Act. This section says the EHRC “shall not take human rights action in relation to a matter” that Scotland has devolved powers to deal with. SHRC said they have written to the EHRC to set-up a meeting.

Source: Scottish Human Rights

A new report found significant human-rights concerns in places of detention during Covid

The National Preventative Mechanism is made up of 21 independent bodies that monitor prisons and places where people are detained, such as mental-health units. In February 2022, it released a report into the ways these places handled the COVID-19 lockdowns and found “significant human rights concerns”. Among other things, the report describes prisoners spending “at least 23 hours a day locked in their cell from March to July 2020” and “lack of social care provision for some very vulnerable prisoners with disabilities”. It also found “excessive COVID-19 restrictions to rooms and cells, along with disruptions to education and in-person visits, had a distinct and sometimes extremely negative impact on children”.

Source: The Justice Gap

A prison reform charity raised human-rights concerns about plans to extend time held on remand in Scotland

Being “on remand” means you’ve been accused of a crime but have not yet been convicted or sentenced but are being held in prison while you wait. Under Scottish law, people can currently be held on remand for between 80 and 140 days for “solemn” (the most serious) cases and 40 days for “summary” (less serious) cases.

The Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill would mean people can be held on remand for an extra 180 days (between 260 and 320 days total) in “solemn” cases and 90 days (130 days total) in “summary” cases.

Howard League Scotland have raised concerns that these changes could breach Article 6 of the Human Rights Act – the right to a fair trial. This is particularly concerning because the number of people being held on remand in Scotland has increased “unfathomably” over the course of the pandemic, going from 16% in February 2020 to around 27% in latest reports.

Source: The Scotsman

Baroness Chakrabarti tabled an amendment to stop an increase to magistrates’ sentencing powers

The Judicial Review Bill that is currently at report stage in the House of Lords proposes increasing the amount of maximum time magistrates are able to send people to prison for in certain circumstances.
Baroness Chakrabarti pointed out that this seems to conflict with the Government’s statements on Human Rights Act reform, where it says that jury trials are an important right that they want to improve protections for. Because magistrates’ trials don’t involve a jury, she said that the proposals would “ultimately [create] a significantly broad back door to undermining jury trial”.

The Amendment was not moved, meaning it wasn’t debated in this session.

Source: They Work For You

Women for Refugee Women is taking the Home Office to court for detaining women without proper access to legal advice

Derwentside Immigration Removal Centre is now the main site where women are detained for immigration purposes. According to Women for Refugee Women’s research, the majority of women in detention are survivors of sexual or gender-based violence. The Home Office started detaining women there on 28 December 2021, despite criticisms from organisations that it is “in a remote location, in a region that lacks immigration and asylum legal aid providers, and so women detained there will […] face significant barriers to accessing good quality legal advice.”

The Home Office recognised the potential for this to cause indirect discrimination in its Equality Impact Assessment, saying, “for some people detained it may be easier to receive such advice face-face from a speaker of their first language, rather than over the telephone or internet.”  As a result, it said there would be legal providers on-site, as with other Immigration Removal Centres – including those housing men.

However, this has not happened. Women in Derwentside have only been able to access legal advice over the phone. Women have advised this makes it harder for them to talk about difficult experiences that are crucial to their case and have also described very poor phone reception and a lack of private spaces.

Claims are being brought by both Women for Refugee Women and a woman who is currently being detained in Derwentside.

Source: Women for Refugee Women