Dismantling British rights

The government is taking a sledgehammer to a cornerstone of British justice with its proposed reforms to the Human Rights Act, the Law Society of England and Wales said in evidence to the Ministry of Justice submitted today.

“Britain’s international reputation as a standard bearer for justice, a champion of human rights and a stable international partner is at risk,” Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said.

“The Human Rights Act confirms and protects the rights and freedoms of people in the UK and provides robust protection in British courts.

“The government is introducing changes that would make the state less accountable.* This undermines a crucial element of the rule of law, preventing people from challenging illegitimate uses of power.

“This will be the result of proposals which make it harder for all of us to protect or enforce our rights if the new Bill of Rights becomes law.”

A range of proposals ** would launch a two-pronged attack, making it harder to access the courts’ protection to enforce rights and reducing the availability of effective remedies. For instance, they would create a class of ‘acceptable’ human rights abuses – those deemed not to have caused ‘significant disadvantage’.

That would affect every one of us and lead to a culture of disrespect for human rights in decision-making, with rights breaches that might be seen as ‘low level’ becoming acceptable because they could no longer be challenged, despite being against the law.

I. Stephanie Boyce added: “With the Bill of Rights, the UK could begin to slide below the standards we agreed to in the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the UK still belongs. This would not only bring into question Britain’s honour and trustworthiness as an international partner, it would also diminish people’s ability to enforce their rights and remove UK courts’ ability to keep pace with international standards.

“In short, dismantling the Human Rights Act would have far-reaching consequences, conferring greater unfettered power not just on the government of today, but also on future ruling parties, whatever their creed.”

Notes to editors

  • Read our response in full
  • * This includes: proposals to exclude issues from the courts’ consideration, reduce public body liability, remove the ability to quash secondary legislation and restrict extraterritorial application of the Human Rights Act (HRA)
  • ** This includes: introducing a new threshold whereby ‘significant disadvantage’ must be proved before a court would consider a claim; restricting positive obligations; introducing prospective quashing orders and limiting the availability of damages

Law Society recommendations to government

  • Implement the recommendation of the Independent Human Rights Act Review (IHRAR) to develop a programme of civic and constitutional education to improve understanding of the HRA, its place in our constitution and the rights and freedoms contained within it
  • Introduce representative actions for human rights claims, allowing a single case to be brought by a representative claimant/ NGO where there are multiple claims on the same issue and with common facts
  • Create a role for the Joint Committee of Human Rights in monitoring and scrutinising section 3 judgments entered into the proposed database
  • Consider creating a mechanism for reviewing human rights judgments and evaluating where legislative or policy changes are required
  • Provide additional training to support public bodies to understand and apply their obligations under the HRA. This should be specific to the context of the public body, delivered by a legal professional with specific expertise and address the importance of human rights obligations and where they may arise in practice.
  • Create a system of independent judicial oversight of detention decisions of suspected insurgents abroad

About the Law Society

The Law Society is the independent professional body that works globally to support and represent solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards, the public interest and the rule of law.

Press office contact: Harriet Beaumont | 020 8049 3854

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