Human Rights Act reforms and the Bill of Rights Bill
On 27 June 2023, it was announced that the government will not be proceeding with the Bill of Rights Bill.
Our president Lubna Shuja said: “We are pleased the government has seen sense and decided not to pursue the Bill of Rights Bill, which would have been a step backwards for British justice.
“Scrapping the Bill is the right decision as it would have created an acceptable class of human rights abuses, weakened individual rights and seen the UK diverge from our international human rights obligations.“
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It would have repealed and replaced the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates and makes the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) domestically enforceable.
Overview of the bill
The Bill of Rights Bill would have retained all the convention rights as well as their ability to be enforced in domestic courts.
It would not have altered the UK’s membership of the ECHR and the obligations it placed on government to secure the full range of convention rights for everyone in the UK.
Public authorities would have still been required to act compatibly with human rights.
What was proposed?
The bill would have changed or removed provisions of the Human Rights Act and introduced a large number of new measures, including:
- introducing a new permission stage, requiring claimants to prove they have (or would) suffer significant disadvantage as a result of a breach of their rights before they can take their claim to court
- setting a higher threshold for challenges to deportations for foreign national offenders based on the right to private and family life
- removing the duty on courts to interpret legislation compatibly with convention rights
- removing the duty on courts to consider how the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR) has interpreted a right
- limiting the interpretation of rights to a literal reading of the text of convention rights
- prohibiting courts from finding a public body owes a positive obligation (which would require the public body to take certain steps to actively protect, fulfil or facilitate a right)
- requiring courts to give great weight to the views of parliament when balancing rights issues
- preventing human rights claims that arise from overseas military operations
The Human Rights Act provides robust protections for the rights and freedoms of everyone in the UK and ensures they can enforce these in domestic courts.
It strikes the right balance between the democratic powers of the executive, parliament and the courts.
We did not believe there was a case for the sweeping reforms proposed in the Bill of Rights Bill, when this was proposed by government.
Responses to government consultations
The government’s own appointed panel in the Independent Human Rights Act Review found that the Human Rights Act is working well overall.
Impact on access to justice and the rule of law
The Bill of Rights Bill would have lowered the level of protection given to human rights.
It would have significantly weakened the ability to enforce these rights through the courts to hold the state accountable for human rights violations.
The bill would have made it harder to access the courts and limits the protection they can provide to someone whose rights have been violated.
It's proposals restricted or rolled back elements of rights across the board and reduces rights for certain categories of people.
These proposals would have:
- damaged the rule of law
- prevented access to justice
- reduced or removed rights
- lead to more cases being taken to the ECtHR
- impacted devolution
- damaged the UK’s international reputation
- created legal uncertainty
What we did
February 2021 – we held a roundtable and online member forum to hear solicitors’ views on the proposed reforms
February 2021 – we submitted an overview of our position to the Joint Committee on Human Rights to inform its response to the review
February 2021 – we held roundtables with expert solicitors to gather evidence and insights to inform our response to the review