The Justice Secretary announces sweeping changes to the act

It has been a long term ambition of some Conservative politicians to either abolish or seriously curtail the HRA.  In 2006 David Cameron said he wanted to scrap the HRA and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.  The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, wrote a book The Assault on Liberty: What Went Wrong with Rights which we earlier reviewed, which set out his arguments.  We suggested there that the reasoning was flawed, feeble and far from historically accurate. Along with three other members of the current cabinet, he contributed to Britannia Unchanged with its much quoted derogatory remarks about British workers who were alleged to be the laziest in the world.  There is footage of him saying ‘I don’t support the Human Rights Act and I don’t believe in economic and social rights’. 

The Conservative position has received much support in the right wing and tabloid press.  Articles regularly appear which assert the act is used to give succour to terrorists, foreign criminals and – most famously – reporting Theresa May’s claim that it was a cat which stood in the way of the deportation of a Chilean national.  It wasn’t.  Some of the stories are gross exaggerations.  Raab even quotes the story of a man in a siege demanding a Kentucky fried chicken because it was his ‘human right’ despite admitting it was not the reason: it was just normal police practice to help defuse a tense situation. 

The many benefits the act has brought to the lives of ordinary people are rarely mentioned.  Even when, in cases like the Hillsborough disaster, or the events at Deepcut, the act was central to securing justice for the families of those who died, that role is omitted from the coverage.  The act has been used in countless cases to secure rights for individuals in their relations with government agencies and local authorities.  Its provisions are built into every day provisions in those organisation’s activities.

 Review

In December last year the government established a review of the HRA and this was published on 14 December 2021.  In short, the Review does not call for substantial changes to the act and argues that it is a good piece of legislation.  The ‘vast majority of submissions [were] in support of HRA’ and they argue that ‘more needs to be done to dispose of the negative perceptions of the HRA (paragraph 14).  They go on to argue for a ‘stronger focus on civic, constitutional education on the HRA and rights more generally’ (15). 

They discuss the ‘margin of appreciation’ that is the degree of subsidiarity and the degree of latitude we have to interpret the law and conclude there is no need to change the current arrangements (26).  They were struck by ‘a high level regard in which the UK Courts and Judiciary are held by the ECtHR and the beneficial influence this has, both domestically and for the European Court’ (35). 

It would seem that the decision to make a sweeping overhaul was not informed by the Review but was a decision already decided on

The Justice Minister announced sweeping changes to the HRA in a statement before the Review was published.  The changes will counter ‘wokery and political correctness’ he claimed.  It is difficult to reconcile the results of the Review with the statement by Mr Raab of the need for radical reform.  It would seem that the decision to make a sweeping overhaul was not informed by the Review but was a decision already decided on.  

If we take into account the other bills before parliament: the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill and the Judicial Review and Courts bill, they represent, together, a serious attack on our liberties.  The ability of ordinary people to assert their rights, to protest or to correct injustice done to them will be seriously curtailed.  There is also a proposal to introduce a ‘permissions stage’ before someone can argue their case in court.  The right to a family life (art 8) may be removed altogether.  As the chief executive of Amnesty International has argued ‘if ministers move ahead with plans to water down the HRA and override judgements with which they disagree they risk aligning themselves with authoritarian regimes around the world’.  

In the last few months, we have seen serious failings by those who are meant to look after us. Serious police shortcomings and allegations of institutional racism have been made. The abysmally low level of rape cases which result in successful prosecutions. Serious failings in childcare with the tragic deaths of some small children. There have been failings within government too numerous to itemise. Far from a reduction in the means of redress, we need an increase. Yet the government seems determined to curtail our rights based on false assumptions and a desire for populist support.

It is likely the Salisbury group will be focusing on these assaults in its future campaigning.


At last we are to see what is proposed in a review of the HRA which several in the Conservative Party wish to see changed. The group is likely to campaign against the changes if, as seems likely, they weaken protections that the act presently provides. Taken with other bills currently going through parliament, they represent a serious attack on our liberties and echo actions by authoritarian regimes around the world.

For now, it might be worth highlighting our post on Dominic Raab MP, the Justice Secretary who is one of the proponents of the changes.


Abdullah was 14 years old when he was abducted by Saudi Arabian authorities in 2017. He was tortured until he ‘confessed’ to crimes he couldn’t have committed. He has several alibis—he was at the seafront 200 km away, playing football with his friends, at the time of the alleged crime.

Abdullah’s conviction was overturned in November 2021. This should be good news, but under Saudi Arabian law there must now be a retrial. That’s why we can’t stop fighting now. 

Saudi Arabian authorities say that they ended the use of the death penalty for child defendants in April 2020. But this is clearly a lie—Abdullah is a child defendant. We’re holding them accountable and making sure the death penalty and his so-called ‘confession’ are off the table. 

Thousands of us in the Reprieve community are helping build a huge swell of public attention and demanding that UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss steps in to protect Abdullah. Will you help too?

If you would like to take part follow this link to the Traidcraft site.

December minutes

Posted: December 12, 2021 in Group news
Tags: , ,

We are pleased to attach the minutes of the December 2021 meeting (via Zoom) thanks to group member Lesley for compiling them.

The minutes give details of our forthcoming events and these are an opportunity for people thinking of joining to make contact.


Report finds that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs is genocide

The word ‘genocide’ has entered the language and we use it today to describe attacks by governments on entire communities usually for reasons of race or religion. It is sometimes surprising to some to discover that it is in fact quite a new word invented in 1944 by Rafael Lemkin. He used it to describe the Nazi’s programme of seeking to exterminate the Jews. Further background to the tussles to get the word accepted is described in Phillippe Sands’ book East West Street (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2016). The victors after the war were keen to set up a system to try and prevent those terrible events from happening again including the Genocide Convention of 1948 agreed only four years after Lemkin first coined the word.

Genocide has not disappeared in the world today and the worst example currently is the programme being carried out by the Chinese against the Uyghur people. A report has recently been published which – although having no official standing – has looked thoroughly into the treatment of the Uyghurs and concludes that ‘efforts to prevent births amounted to genocidal intent.’ Uyghur women are having their wombs removed and babies are often killed after being born.

The Chinese treatment of the has been horrific and that it should be taking place in the modern age is deeply depressing. China can use its veto power to prevent action by the International Criminal Court. In addition to the suppression of births the report describes ‘unconscionable crimes’ against the Uyghur people. These include physical violence, sexual abuse including penetration by electric shock rods or iron bars, holding people up to their necks in cold water for prolonged periods of time and the use of heavy shackles sometimes for months at a time. Face recognition technology is used on an extensive scale making communities effectively open prisons.

As many as a million are in held re-education establishments where they are forced to learn Chinese. If caught speaking their own language they are severely beaten. Hundreds of thousands of Uyghur children have been removed from their families and placed in Han speaking homes. Mosques have been destroyed and graves bulldozed. Travel to the region is tightly restricted.

It is a catalogue of depravity of truly shocking extent. The Chinese deny any of this is taking place but the weight of evidence is too great to dismiss. The scale and extent of the persecution must have received authority at the highest level. Although, unlike the Nazis, there is no programme of mass killing, the programme does represent a deliberate programme to eliminate the culture, history and language of these people.

The UK government has so far declined to call the programme genocide.


The second of our Write for Rights this year took place today, Saturday 11 December in St Thomas’s Church in Salisbury starting at 10 am for 2 hours. As before the cases were be:

Mikita Zalatarou of Belarus. He is a teenager who has been sent to a penal colony following protests at the recent elections.
Zhang Zhan of China. She is one of the journalists who tried to get the truth out about the Covid virus in Wuhan. She was sentenced to 4 years in prison.
Ciham ali Ahmed of Eritrea. She was arrested on the Sudan border and nine years later her family do not know her whereabouts. Many prisoners are held in underground containers.
Bernardo Caal Xol in Guatamala. He was caught up in the protests against the construction of hydroelectric dams which would have seriously harmed the indigenous peoples. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison with no evidence provided.

These of course are just a small selection of the thousands of people who are imprisoned for reasons of the beliefs they hold, opposition to the government or because they are human rights defenders, journalists or lawyers. If you can spare a moment or two to pop in we would be delighted to see you.

It would also be an opportunity to make yourself known if you wish to join the group.


We are grateful to group member Andrew for his work in preparing this piece on the important topic of refugees and asylum seekers. There has been a lot of activity on the legislative front this month concerning refugees and related matters .  

There has been much activity on the Nationality and Borders bill, which has reached the report stage, following the detailed discussion in committee, prior to going to the Lords.

Among the changes brought about in the last month, Clause 9 has been the most controversial, allowing the government to remove a person’s citizenship without notifying them, if they consider it in the public interest.  The clause, proposed in July and updated in November, exempts the government from giving notice of a decision to deprive a person of citizenship if authorities do not have the subject’s contact details or if it is not “reasonably practical” to do so.  The clause states that notice would also not be given if such a move is “in the public interest”.  However, the Home Office has said those deprived of citizenship will still have the right to appeal.

A precedent was set in 2019, after Shamima Begum, who was born in London, was stripped of her UK citizenship due to her connections with the ISIL (ISIS).  Sajid Javid, home secretary at the time, argued that although Begum did not have a foreign passport, she would not be stateless because of her Bangladeshi ancestry.  However, Bangladesh, which she had never visited, said she had no claim to the South Asian nation.

Since 2006, the UK has had the power to strip dual nationals of their British citizenship.  The measures were introduced after the 2005 London bombings – four suicide bombings on July 7 that killed 52 people.  At that moment, British anti-terrorism laws changed, and collective security was trumped over protecting civil liberties and freedoms.

Under Tony Blair, who was then prime minister, 12 counterterrorism measures were outlined, also including the expansion of the controversial Prevent programme, which was quietly created in 2003. This required public officials working in schools, universities, hospitals and local councils to report people they found to be showing “radical” tendencies to the authorities.

The ability to deny people citizenship was increased in 2010 by then-Home Secretary Theresa May, who used the powers to strip 20 dual-national Britons who were believed to be fighting in Syria.  In 2014, May took this further, extending the measures to foreign-born British citizens without dual nationality, as long as they were eligible for foreign citizenship and would not be left stateless.  But the new clause – which means people may not be notified of their stripped citizenship – can also be applied before it becomes law, making an appeals process harder.

report by the New Statesman found that almost six million people from ethnic minority backgrounds could be affected by the proposed clause.

The bill also aims to rule as inadmissible asylum claims made by undocumented people as well as criminalise them and anyone taking part in refugee rescue missions in the English Channel.  Moreover, border force staff will be granted immunity if people die in the Channel during “pushback” operations, a matter of concern among immigration lawyers who say the bill breaches international and domestic law.

According to The Guardian, in response to the new clause, the Home Office has said: “British citizenship is a privilege, not a right.  Deprivation of citizenship on conducive grounds is rightly reserved for those who pose a threat to the UK or whose conduct involves very high harm.  The nationality and borders bill will amend the law so citizenship can be deprived where it is not practicable to give notice, for example, if there is no way of communicating with the person.”

The bill is currently going through the House of Commons and will progress to the House of Lords by next year.

The situation with the points-based immigration system

The Government is struggling to manage the demands of its post-Brexit, points-based immigration system, new figures suggest.  Quarterly statistics published by UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) show that waiting times for immigration sponsorship approvals have increased dramatically since the start of 2021, when the UK’s new immigration system came into effect.

From 2018 to the start of 2021, on average, 78.5% of ‘tier 2’ sponsorship applications were processed within four weeks. In the first half of 2021, this figure sank to an average of 24.6%.  This has similarly been the case for ‘tier 5’ sponsorships, 79.7% of which were processed within four weeks from 2018 to the start of 2021.  Since that time, 23.6% have been processed within this time limit.

Tier 2 visas are granted to skilled workers seeking employment in the UK.  According to the Home Office, applicants “must be able to speak, read, write and understand English” in order to gain entry.  Tier 5 visas, meanwhile, are open to temporary workers – with visas granted for between six and 24 months. Both routes require an application fee of roughly £200, and a healthcare surcharge of some £600-a-year – unless the applicant is a health or social care worker.

The average time taken to process a visa application in the second quarter of 2021 was 48.35 days – compared to just 28 days in the second quarter of last year.  There are now 2,202 applications in the UKVI system that have taken longer to process than the average amount of time – compared to just 374 in the final quarter of 2020.

From 1 January 2021, the UK introduced a more stringent immigration policy that allows entry for those who have a job offer in a skilled sector that meets certain salary thresholds – as well as students and temporary workers in applicable industries.  In order for temporary and skilled workers to gain a visa, the UK demands that they are officially sponsored by their prospective employer.  This differs from the UK’s previous immigration system, during its membership of the EU, when European citizens could move freely to live, work, or study in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, the UK has subsequently seen a surge in sponsorship applications, which were previously only required for non-EU migrants.  An average of 1,346 applications were made in each quarter from the beginning of 2018 to the third quarter of 2020 – rising to 2,607 in the final quarter of 2020, 3,566 in the first quarter of the new year and 3,794 in the second.

However, this surge was entirely predictable. Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the points-based immigration system in February 2020, with Brexiters having supported the idea ever since the 2016 EU Referendum campaign.

According to employer solutions law firm Davidson Morris, Home Office staff have also been diverted “away from sponsorship applications to handle EU settlement scheme applications from EEA nationals” – the process through which EU residents have gained the temporary or permanent right to remain in the UK.

“One year on, our new system is making it easier for businesses to hire the skills and talent they need, while incentivising investment in our domestic workforce,” a Home Office spokesperson told Byline Times.  “Valid and complete applications for visas are processed within the published timescales despite a sustained rise in demand.”

However, the lagging performance of the UK’s immigration system risks exacerbating worker shortages that have plagued the country in recent months.  Amid food and fuel shortages, the UK has made 4,700 temporary visas available to HGV drivers, 5,500 visas for poultry workers, and 800 for pork butchers.  The Government also encouraged 300 EU fuel tanker drivers without a visa to enter the country – yet only nine people applied.

These schemes will not solve the fundamental issues with the UK’s new immigration regime – either in the short or the long-term.  Indeed, speaking to CNN, British Chambers of Commerce President Ruby McGregor-Smith likened the Government’s temporary visa schemes to “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire

Immigration as a concern for voters

Following Robert Peston’s claim that immigration was top of voters’ concerns, YouGov asked adults in Great Britain, most recently on 22 November 2021, to pick up to three of the most important issues facing the country.  The top three responses were health (49%), the economy (40%) and the environment (35%).  Immigration and asylum were fourth with 34%.  (These figures are analysed to remove random fluctuations in the data due to sampling variability.  If this isn’t done immigration and asylum are even lower with 22%).

Ipsos MORI polled people between 5 and 11 November and found climate change was mentioned most as a concern (40%).  Coronavirus and pandemic diseases came second with 27% and Brexit issues and the NHS/healthcare were both third with 22%.  Immigration and immigrants were mentioned by 11%.

Safe Return of Asylum Seekers

While the Nationality and Borders bill moves on, for some reason a new bill has been tabled to help the government return asylum seekers to “safe countries” in an effort to reduce the number of people claiming asylum in the UK.   Introduced by Conservative MP Peter Bone, the Asylum Seekers (Return to Safe Countries) Bill has passed its second reading.

The Bill would “require asylum seekers who have arrived in the United Kingdom from a safe country to be immediately returned to that country”.  This could apply to those arriving directly from countries deemed “safe” by the UK or to asylum seekers arriving in the UK via a safe country such as France or Germany.  This is essentially an attempt to reinstate the Dublin 111

Accord of the European Union, which allowed member countries to return unregistered immigrants to that part of the EU where they first landed.  Post- Brexit, this obviously no longer applies, though the Home Office is trying to return asylum seekers to the Continent wherever it can.

Health issues for refugees

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF), alongside other leading healthcare organisations, has written to the Home Secretary in the wake of last month’s tragic loss of life in the English Channel.  The letter outlines their collective opposition to the Nationality and Borders Bill due to its lasting and profound harm to the health and wellbeing of people in need of refugee protection.


Dear Secretary of State,

We write to you in the wake of last week’s tragic loss of life in the English Channel, as organisations representing medical professionals and patients, to raise concerns about the health implications of the Nationality and Borders Bill.

In its attempt to establish a two-tiered asylum system based on the way a refugee enters the UK, the Bill undermines established international protection rules and practices and breaks international law. The United Nations Refugee Agency has described these changes as “a recipe for mental and physical ill-health”.

If passed, the Bill will bring in sweeping changes to the asylum system, including establishing large-scale reception centres in the UK and offshore asylum processing sites, which will cause lasting and profound harm to the health and wellbeing of people in need of refugee protection.

Our concerns are based on a wealth of evidence from individuals held on Manus and Nauru Islands under the Australian Government’s offshore detention policy and our work supporting people in asylum accommodation across the UK.

We strongly oppose the Nationality and Borders Bill as it stands and urgently call on you to establish a kinder, fairer, and more effective approach to supporting refugees, regardless of how they arrive in the UK, including a community-based accommodation system that enables meaningful access to health services.

A group of medical organisations and health bodies wrote to you on 26 November 2020 expressing concern about the use of Ministry of Defence sites to house people seeking asylum.

The letter highlighted the sites’ unsuitability for this purpose due to the lack of access to adequate and appropriate healthcare services, public health risks resulting from a lack of compliance with COVID-19 regulations, and the risk of re-traumatisation triggered by accommodation in former military barracks.

Despite this warning, and Public Health England’s advice against using Napier Barracks because of the coronavirus pandemic, no action was taken.  Residents were left managing health needs alone and reports of suicidal ideation were frequent.

An inspection by the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration found individuals “suffering from serious underlying physical and mental health conditions, including one case of active TB at Napier”, and there have been two avoidable and significant coronavirus outbreaks in the Napier site.

We are deeply concerned by plans to establish large-scale reception centres to accommodate up to 8,000 people, and that Napier Barracks is viewed by the government as a prototype for these  centres.

As medical organisations, our experience of supporting vulnerable individuals in Napier Barracks and Penally Camp, as well as medical evidence from Greece which operates similarly large reception centres, show this type of large-scale accommodation prevents people from accessing medical care and presents a real risk to public health.

This type of accommodation is also inappropriate for people seeking asylum, many of whom will have experienced torture, exploitation and abuse, and are at risk of severe psychological distress and re-traumatisation.

The Bill’s proposal for asylum seekers and refugees to be detained offshore indefinitely whilst their asylum claims are processed is deeply alarming from a health perspective.

Australia has implemented a policy of offshoring refugees and asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru Islands since 2012, resulting in severe and well documented harm to people’s physical and mental health whilst concealing their suffering from public scrutiny.

This must not be replicated by the UK. MSF’s mental health project on Nauru Island responded to shocking levels of mental illness among asylum seeker and refugee patients linked to the offshore processing policy.

Sixty percent of patients had suicidal thoughts and 30 percent actually attempted suicide, while 10 children and two adults were diagnosed with the rare, life-threatening condition Resignation Syndrome, which requires medical care to keep the individual alive.

The policy also perpetuated a system of violence, physical and sexual abuse of those detained and led to more than 1,200 people being medically evacuated from Nauru to Australia to receive medical care not available on the island. Many were evacuated for psychiatric reasons after years of distress on the island.

In light of these serious mental and physical health concerns, we are calling for the government to scrap the plans to establish offshore asylum processing and ensure that all asylum seekers who arrive in the UK remain in the country whilst their asylum claim is processed, by removing clause 28 from the Bill.

We also call on government to withdraw plans to introduce UK-based reception centres and make a full commitment to house people seeking asylum in the UK within our communities.

Yours sincerely,

12 signatures

Beyond Europe

Six months after it moved to formally terminate the programme, the Biden administration is restarting the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as Remain in Mexico, a border policy that forces vulnerable migrants to wait in northern Mexico as their US asylum cases are assessed.  This project was instituted by President Trump, and the current administration say they are having to reinstitute it due to a federal court injunction obtained by the states of Texas and Missouri.  The American Civil Liberties Union have commented:

“The reimplementation of this illegal and cruel policy will inflict on thousands of additional people seeking asylum the same harms that were well documented under its previous implentation: horrific abuse, including torture, rape, and death; and the denial of any meaningful opportunity to obtain asylum.    

“Secretary Mayorkas himself recently acknowledged that MPP is inherently flawed and cannot be fixed, and that its human costs are substantial and unjustifiable.  Although the Biden administration may claim it has no choice but to restart MPP, there is no question that it has a choice to end Title 42, which causes many of the same harms, and yet it has chosen to continue and even double down on that cruel and unlawful policy that turns people away at the border under the guise of public health. It is imperative that that administration do everything within its power to bring both policies to a complete end.”   
 


Latest report from mid November to mid December

We are pleased to attach the latest death penalty report for the month thanks to group member Lesley for compiling it. The report features events in Egypt which is executing large numbers of people, USA, India and other countries. Note that China, which probably executes more of its citizens than the rest of the world combined, does not feature because it keeps details a state secret.


Meeting tonight via Zoom, starting at 7pm.

Card signing for Write for Rights on Saturday 11th at St Thomas’s church starting at 10 am.

Carol singing on Monday 20 December in Victoria Road and environs.

Hope to see supporters at one or other of these events.

Seasons greetings!

Card signing

Posted: December 6, 2021 in Group news
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Just under 100 cards were signed on Sunday and around a third of passers by stopped to sign. We shall be repeating the exercise in St Thomas’s Church on Saturday 11th starting at 10 am.