The Bill of Rights


Conservatives seek to abolish the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights

Human rights are about power, who has it, who wields it and the effects on those without it. These rights have been struggled over for centuries. Once it was kings (and the occasional queen) who wielded absolute power. Gradually, it was wrested from them and parliament achieved supremacy after 1688 and the Glorious Revolution. It was a rather more bloody affair a century later in France.

The all party Human Rights Act in 1998 – a fact rather overlooked by some ministers who characterise it as ‘Labour’s’ act – incorporated the European Convention into British law and marked a sea change in the relationship between the people and the government and agents of government. It set out a series of rights which enabled the ordinary subject to challenge government decisions, negligence or criminal acts. Notable successes include the Hillsborough disaster where the police attempted to shift blame onto the supporters but after years of campaigning – using the HRA as a key lever – the surviving families were able to achieve measure of justice and highlight police failings as a key factor in the tragedy. Other scandals have involved hospitals and other police miscarriages where victims have been able to bring to light serious failings in these institutions.

Despite being such a step forward, many in the Conservative party and a major parts of the press, have waged a remorseless campaign against the act. The Conservatives have pledged to reform or abolish it in all their recent manifestos. The press have published story after story along the lines that the act prevents criminals getting their just deserts, it helps terrorists escape justice and most recently, preventing asylum seekers from being exported to Rwanda. Many of the stories are exaggerated or have nothing to do with the HRA. For readers of this material, the decision by Dominic Raab to publish the Bill of Rights this week (June 2022) cannot come too soon and will enable they believe, proper justice to return to the UK. ‘Lefty lawyers’ will be put in their place and before long, plane loads of asylum seekers will be jetted off to Africa. The power of the judiciary to intervene will be reduced.

To understand these actions, as we said above, you have to start with power. If power is exercised fairly, with the rewards of society evenly disbursed, then the holders of power have little to fear. If the leaders have the trust of the people, they are unlikely to feel threatened. But when the divide in the nation between the haves and the have-nots gets wider and wider, when the poor get ever poorer and the nation’s leaders lose the trust of the led, then they will feel threatened. The life of easy privilege will be under threat. It is tempting in these circumstances to clamp down on the means of protest, to close off avenues of redress and to curb the means by which the ordinary person can assert their rights. Hence the spate of bills and the desire to end the HRA, the very means by which the ordinary person can assert their rights against the power of the state.

In addition to the power question, we have to look at some of the other doubtful reasoning behind this bill. In an earlier post we discussed the book written by Dominic Raab and two of his cabinet colleagues arguing for the end of the act. One element was the notion of liberty and it was this which enabled Britain to become a wealthy nation they argue. Laws and regulations have hampered this liberty and thus removed our ability to be properly wealthy. Get rid of these restrictions and we will regain our prosperity.

The argument overlooked slavery which provided the money for investment, imperial preference which stifled competition, and the terrible state that ordinary people lived in, the squalor, the slums, disease and malnutrition. Indeed, they, like many other people, have forgotten the ‘recruits crisis’ where losses in the Boor war at the end of the nineteenth century were hard to replace because the physical, malnourished and unhealthy state of volunteers was so poor.

The Bill of Rights, should it become law – together with the other legislation to limit protest, enhance the powers of the police and to limit judicial oversight – will be a backward step in the development of our society. It will shift yet more power to the government and its ministers. It will drastically reduce the power of the citizen to right wrongs. It is a retrograde step.

We and others will be working to oppose its passing.


For American readers, the Hillsborough disaster was a fatal crush of people during an FA Cup football (soccer) match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England, on 15 April 1989. With 96 fatalities and 766 injuries, it remains the worst disaster in British sporting history. Initially, the supporters were blamed but after decades of campaigning, using the HRA as we’ve said, police failings were eventually recognised.

Bill of Rights


Plans to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a Bill of Rights was set out in the Queen’s Speech given to parliament today (10 May 2022) by Prince Charles (the Queen was indisposed).

The Conservatives have long wanted to rid themselves of the HRA seeing it as a drag on the British legal system, not allowing them to deport foreign criminals at the end of their sentences and providing opportunities for ‘lefty lawyers’ to use spurious grounds of a right to family life to frustrate deportations. Salisbury’s local MP John Glen is one of those who has supported the idea of abolition. The problem all along has been replace it with what? The proposal has appeared in all the recent party manifestos but action has seemed difficult to achieve. The government is keen to capitalise on our departure from Europe (and there are other bills in the speech concerning post Brexit matters) and the role of Strasbourg has long been a thorn they wish to remove. Below is the detail behind the speech:

Bill of Rights

[Extract of the proposed bill of rights legislation from the Queen’s speech]

 “My Government will ensure the constitution is defended. My Ministers will restore the balance of power between the legislature and the courts by introducing a Bill of Rights.”

The purpose of the Bill is to:

● Introduce a Bill of Rights which will ensure our human rights framework meets the needs of the society it serves and commands public confidence.

● End the abuse of the human rights framework and restore some common sense to our justice system. The main benefits of the Bill would be:

● Defending freedom of speech by promoting greater confidence in society to express views freely, thereby enhancing public debate.

● Curbing the incremental expansion of a rights culture without proper democratic oversight, which has displaced due focus on personal responsibility and the public interest.

● Reducing unnecessary litigation and avoiding undue risk aversion for bodies delivering public services.

● Tackling the issue of foreign criminals evading deportation, because their human rights are given greater weight than the safety and security of the public.

The main elements of the Bill are:

● Establishing the primacy of UK case law, clarifying there is no requirement to follow the Strasbourg case law and that UK Courts cannot interpret rights in a more expansive manner than the Strasbourg Court.

● Ensuring that UK courts can no longer alter legislation contrary to its ordinary meaning and constraining the ability of the UK courts to impose ‘positive obligations’ on our public services without proper democratic oversight by restricting the scope for judicial legislation.

● Guaranteeing spurious cases do not undermine public confidence in human rights so that courts focus on genuine and credible human rights claims. The responsibility to demonstrate a significant disadvantage before a human rights claim can be heard in court will be placed on the claimant.

● Recognising that responsibilities exist alongside rights by changing the way that damages can be awarded in human rights claims, for example by ensuring that the courts consider the behaviour of the claimant when considering making an award.

Territorial extent and application

● The Bill will extend and apply across the UK.

Key facts

● An estimated 70 per cent of foreign national offenders who had their deportation overturned in the last five years on human rights grounds in the First Tier Tribunal did so due to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Right to Family Life).

● Between 2005 and 2011, the Prison Service in England and Wales faced successful legal challenges from over 600 prisoners on human rights grounds. This has cost the taxpayer around £7 million, including compensation paid out and legal costs.

[END OF EXTRACT]

What is the Human Rights Act?

The Human Rights Act protects all of us. It brings home fundamental, universal rights we all have as human beings, and allows us to challenge authorities if they violate them. It’s an invisible safety net, working to ensure our rights are respected. It is a crucial defence for the most vulnerable.

We know the Human Rights Act works. It worked for the Hillsborough families in their fight for justice. It worked for the victims of John Worboys. It worked to overturn the near total ban on abortion in Northern Ireland. We don’t need to change it.  

The Police Bill has shown that the government does not want to see protests against its actions. The proposed bill of rights will further weaken the rights of ordinary citizens against the power of the state. Take the clause above ‘guaranteeing spurious cases do not undermine public confidence in human rights …’ Who is to decide what is spurious? A government minister? Or ‘reducing unnecessary legislation to avoid undue risk aversion by public bodies’. Reducing checks on fire safety is almost certainly to be found to be one of the causes of the fire at Grenfell Tower.

The local group will be among many opposing this attack on the HRA. Perhaps the bill should be renamed the ‘Bill of Reduced Rights’?

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