Human Rights Act and Judicial Review

Families oppose weakening the Human Rights Act

Posted on 23 Jun 2021

  • Families stand together against changes to the Human Rights Act
  • Group urges panel to consider the human impact of changing the Act
  • Access to justice for ordinary people under threat, they warn

Families and individuals who have used the Human Rights Act (HRA) to secure justice have told their stories to an independent panel charged with reviewing the Act.

At an event today (23 June) families met the Independent Human Rights Act Review panel, to make clear how vital the Act is in securing justice. The panel has been set up as part of sweeping constitutional reforms to change how Governments are held to account. These reforms include weakening the ways in which the HRA can be used to challenge decisions made by national Government and local authorities.

Those who attended the event to explain why the HRA is so vital included:

  • A grieving family who stopped benefit cuts for hospitalised children
  • A mum who helped defeat council increases on social care charges for disabled people
  • A family who won the right for children conceived after a parent’s death to have that parent named on their birth certificate

In a letter to the panel ahead of the event the people said: “We all want to live in an equal, just and fair society. But governments and public authorities don’t always get things right. We are a group of people who know what it means to rely on our human rights laws to stand up to people in power. We have all had to secure justice and truth for ourselves and for the people we love. And the Human Rights Act made that possible.”

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said: “We should all be able to secure justice and uphold our rights when we need to. The Human Rights Act helps to ensure that by allowing ordinary people – like those who met the IHRAR panel – to challenge governments and public authorities when they get things wrong. Many people’s lives have been made better as a result.

“No one, especially governments and local authorities, should be above the law – but those currently in power are trying to make themselves untouchable by eroding our ability to access justice and to stand up to power. Liberty is urging the independent panel to listen to the people who know first-hand how damaging this could be.”

Craig Mathieson and his family used the Human Rights Act to challenge a decision to suspend his five-year-old son’s benefits when he was admitted to hospital for more than 12 weeks. Their legal challenge forced the Government to change the law so no family of a sick or disabled child loses their benefits, no matter how long they have to stay in hospital.

Craig Mathieson said: “Without the Human Rights Act, and the access to justice which this review risks removing entirely, my family would never have had the opportunity to secure justice. The Human Rights Act enabled us to prove we represented what happened to almost every family in the same situation as us – instead of the unfortunate and rare case the government tried to claim we were. As a result, families who find themselves in the same situation no longer have to suffer like we did.”

A mum alongside her disabled daughter used the Human Rights Act to challenge their local council for increasing the charges they face for social care. Their legal challenge forced the council to freeze the increases, repay some of the charges and review its policy.

The mum, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: “This judgment resulted in action for a cohort of thousands of locally affected disabled people, and reviews of policies nationally. This was our last possible resort after years of challenges by disabled people and their families.”

Diane Blood and her sons Liam and Joel, along with another mum and her son, brought a joint action using the Human Rights Act to argue that the children should be able to have their fathers’ named on their birth certificates even though they were conceived posthumously. They won their legal challenge meaning families in a similar situation can have both parents’ names recorded.

Diane Blood said: “If the official document designed to record a child’s parentage lies by omission then it strikes at the heart of personal identity, which is and should remain a fundamental human right, enshrined in law.”

Liam Blood said: “Who I am and where I came from, is as important to me as anyone else. I am pleased that myself and my brother could rely on the Human Rights Act to demonstrate that we should not be discriminated against on the basis of decisions made and events that happened before we were born.”

The families and individuals are being supported in their campaign by Liberty, the human rights organisation, which has repeatedly warned that Government plans to weaken the HRA would limit access to justice and put those in power above the law.

Liberty has also raised concerns that attempts to alter the HRA are part of a much broader Government attempt to make itself untouchable by shutting down avenues of accountability. This also includes attempts to change judicial review to make it harder for people to challenge governments and public bodies in court, as well as restrictions on the right to protest to make it harder for people to make their voices heard.

Notes to Editors:

1. The full text of the letter to the Independent Human Rights Act Review panel ahead of the event:

“We all want to live in an equal, just and fair society. But governments and public authorities don’t always get things right. We are a group of people who know what it means to rely on our human rights laws to stand up to people in power. We have all had to secure justice and truth for ourselves and for the people we love. And the Human Rights Act made that possible.

“Your review asks about how the law might be changed. But it doesn’t ask how effectively it’s working right now. We know the difference the Act has made to people’s lives because we have lived it. We can tell you first-hand how it has protected our rights and the rights of people like us across the UK.

“We urge you to meet with people who have used the Human Rights Act in court. For our rights to be meaningful, we all need effective access to justice and a fair hearing.”

 

 

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