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.
● 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’?