Human Rights Act, ECHR and Government accountability

Liberty research shows: 85% say MPs should follow the rules they set

Posted on 08 Mar 2022

As the government’s consultation on overhauling the Human Right Act closes, new research by Liberty shows that most people believe that everyone should follow the same rules and no-one should be above the law.

  • New research casts Government plans to change constitutional rules in dim light as consultation on Human Rights Act overhaul closes
  • Majority of public believe the Government should not make themselves untouchable
  • Figures also show high levels of concern over weakening human rights and plans to criminalise protest

NEW research by Liberty shows most people believe that no matter your role, everyone should follow the same rules and that no one should be above the law.

Following months of evidence of consistent rule-breaking at No 10, a poll found that  84% of people agree that no-one, including those in power, should be above the law and 85% believe MPs should follow the rules they set.

The figures come as human rights organisation Liberty raises concerns about Government attempts to make themselves untouchable.

A raft of legislation currently going through Parliament would make it more difficult for ordinary people to hold those in power to account, while plans to overhaul the Human Rights Act would see crucial legal protections stripped away for many.

The Policing Bill, which was voted on by MPs last week, has been widely condemned as an attempt by Ministers to clamp down on protest. It contains sweeping new powers enabling the police to shut down protests for a variety of reasons including for being ‘too noisy’.  It also contains a ban on static protests. The measures have been opposed by swathes of parliamentarians including former Prime Minister Theresa May, ex-police chiefs, and over 350 civil society organisations.

Meanwhile, Peers last month voted on plans for mandatory voter ID at elections – which critics say will disenfranchise two million people across the UK at a cost of £120 million.

The Government is also introducing legislation to weaken the Judicial Review process and planning to overhaul the Human Rights Act – both of which will make it harder for people to challenge the government or public bodies and to defend their rights.

The Government’s consultation on changes to the Human Rights Act closes today, amid criticism from Liberty and a coalition of disability and human rights groups for failing to include some disabled people in the consultation process. The groups said the Government made it ‘virtually impossible’ for some people to respond, after the Government belatedly published an ‘easy read’ version of the document with just 12 days left of the 12-week long consultation process.

Graphic that reads 81% say governments must not make themselves unaccountable, 80% say people should be able to stand up to power and challenge injustice.

Polling by nfpResearch on behalf of Liberty show that many are worried by these moves: almost half of people (45%) are very or extremely concerned about weakening human rights, while 43% say they are very or extremely concerned about plans to criminalise protest.

However, only two in five (41%) have heard about Government plans to review the Human Rights Act, and just over a third (36%) have heard about plans to make it harder to challenge Government decisions.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said:

“We all want to live in a fair society, where the rules apply to all of us and we can hold those in power to account when they get it wrong. But it’s clear that this Government is trying to put itself above the law, with changes taking place that most people don’t know about. These are not small changes – they will dramatically alter how the public can hold Government accountable for its actions, including when they get things wrong or act unlawfully.

“These figures show that if the public knew what was happening they would not tolerate this Government’s attempts to re-write the rules so that only they can win. The overwhelming majority of people agree that no-one – including those in power – should be above the law, and many are concerned about attempts to criminalise protest and the weakening of human rights.

“Ministers would do well to heed these concerns, and reverse what were always going to be deeply unpopular moves to erode accountability.”

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