Administrative and public law

Westminster update: Peers debate Human Rights Act

Your weekly update from the Law Society’s public affairs team on all the latest developments and debates in Parliament and across Whitehall.

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What you need to know

1. Peers debate Human Rights Act

Members of the House of Lords debated the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the government’s plans to replace it with a British Bill of Rights on Thursday 14 July.

Labour’s Shadow Home Affairs Spokesperson, Lord Ponsonby criticised the planned law. He quoted our President I. Stephanie Boyce’s view that the proposals could “create an acceptable class of human rights abuses in the United Kingdom”.

Members of the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and crossbenchers alike came out in support of the Act, noting how it compels public organisations to treat individuals with the universal principles of fairness, dignity and respect.

Baroness Whitaker, who introduced the debate, said that the Act ‘creates a system for hearing cases across the UK rather than in the Strasbourg court’ which, she said, ‘enables access for all to justice’.

Responding, Justice Minister Lord Bellamy said the government accepted the Act and its principles, while it did not want to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

He argued that the government was seeking “constructive balance” between the legislature and the judiciary through the Bill of Rights.

It was also important in his view to restate certain principles, including divergence from Strasbourg and the supremacy of the Supreme Court.

He noted that second reading of the bill was planned for September.

We will continue to work with Parliamentarians and the government to defend human rights and put forward ways to improve the planned Bill of Rights.

2. New justice ministers are confirmed

New ministers were appointed to the Ministry of Justice on Monday 11 July, filling vacancies following resignations in protest at Boris Johnson’s leadership last week.

  • Stuart Andrew has been appointed Minister of State
  • Sarah Dines becomes the new Minister for Legal Aid
  • Tom Pursglove has been appointed a joint Justice and Home Office Minister, covering policing
  • Simon Baynes is the new Minister for Illegal Migration, focusing on the immigration system

We have welcomed the new team to their positions and look forward to working with them closely on the issues affecting our justice system.

3. Conservative leadership race kicks off

The opening rounds of the Conservative leadership race to succeed Boris Johnson as party leader and Prime Minister took place this week.

Jeremy Hunt, Nadhim Zahawi, and Suella Braverman were all eliminated as MPs began to vote for their next leader.

Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak is currently the front runner with the most MP endorsements, followed by Penny Mordaunt, who picked up strong support among MPs amid favourable polling showing her popularity among Conservative Party members.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, Kemi Badenoch, and Tom Tugendhat remain in the race, with debates scheduled on Friday and into the weekend.

Voting will resume on Monday, with subsequent rounds on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

The final two candidates will then be voted on by the membership, with the winner and new Prime Minister announced in September.

4. Northern Ireland Protocol Bill begins committee stage

This week, the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill began its committee stage in the House of Commons.

During its first day of debate on Wednesday 13 June, there were concerns raised by MPs from all parties around:

  • the legality of the bill
  • its consequences for the UK’s international reputation and the rule of law, and
  • comments on the wide range of ministerial powers conferred by the bill

Chair of the Justice Select Committee, Sir Bob Neill (Conservative) argued that the Bill would lead to the United Kingdom departing “unilaterally” from an international agreement and therefore “breaking its obligations under both customary international law and the Vienna convention on the law of treaties.”

He described this as a “grave and profound step” for any government to take.

The Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Kyle, said that the Bill will “damage” the UK’s reputation with its “closest” allies and that it is an “affront to the UK’s values.

The Bill will continue its Committee stage next week, with the government hoping for the Bill to be passed by the House of Commons before the summer recess, before beginning its passage through the House of Lords in the autumn.

Coming up

We will be working closely with MPs and peers to influence a number of bills and inquiries:

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