Human Rights Act and Government accountability

‘WHAT ARE THEY SO AFRAID OF’: MPs CALL FOR PRE-LEGISLATIVE SCRUTINY FOR PROPOSED BILL OF RIGHTS

Posted on 21 Jun 2022

  • Campaigners call for pre-legislative scrutiny for the Government’s proposed Bill of Rights, as both Conservative and opposition MPs ask ‘what are they so afraid of?’
  •  Letter to Dominic Raab says proposals set out in the Bill of Rights are of “supreme constitutional significance and have the potential to impact on the rights of individuals for many years to come.”
  • Justice Committee Chair and Conservative MP Sir Robert Neill says Government’s decision to ignore JCHR recommendation is ‘disappointing’.

 

Liberty and a broad coalition of 150 organisations from across civil society have called on the Government to provide pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposed Bill of Rights, with Conservative and opposition MPs supporting the call and asking ‘what exactly is the UK Government so scared of?’

In a letter sent to Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, the groups warned that the proposal to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act is a major constitutional step requiring careful and robust consideration and warned of the impact on the rights of individuals should this
process be rushed.

Among the calls, Justice Committee Chair and Conservative MP Sir Robert Neill called the
Government’s decision to ignore recommendations from the Joint Committee on Human Rights ‘disappointing’. His comments were echoed by politicians from across Parliament, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party.

Liberty has called the plans to scrap the Human Rights Act a ‘power grab’, which would make it far harder for people – including those who challenge the police when they fail to investigate violence against women and girls – to access justice.

Last week, Justice Minister James Cartlidge stated that the Government does not intend to submit the Bill of Rights for pre-legislative scrutiny.

Signed by human rights organisations, law centres, religious groups, trade unions, and the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland among many other signatories, the letter highlights the broad recognition of the need for pre-legislative scrutiny of such important constitutional proposals.

It follows in the wake of a recent joint letter from the cross-party, cross-House parliamentary committees the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Justice Committee, Lords Constitution Committee, and Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, warning that the proposals set out in the Bill of Rights are of “supreme constitutional significance and have the potential to impact on the rights of individuals for many years to come”, and urging that “the Bill should be considered in draft by a Joint Committee”.

Ministers of the devolved nations have also highlighted how the Government’s proposals to replace the Human Rights Act threaten to undermine the devolution settlement in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with the Good Friday Agreement put in serious risk by any changes to the Human Rights Act.

Pre-legislative scrutiny of these plans is made even more important by the divergence between the proposals and the findings of the independent panel established by the Government to review the operation of the Human Rights Act. The panel found that the HRA is operating effectively to preserve parliamentary autonomy and to protect individuals’ rights.

However, the Government’s proposed Bill of Rights ignored these findings and would be a vast and deeply consequential overhaul of human rights protections in this country.

In a letter sent on Monday 20 June 2022, the groups urged the Government to respect the principles of our parliamentary democracy and subject the proposed Bill of Rights to the pre-legislative scrutiny it clearly requires.

Liberty Director Martha Spurrier, said: “Scrapping the Human Rights Act poses a real, imminent threat to rights in the UK. It’s a blatant, unashamed power grab from a Government that wants to put those in power above the law. They are quite literally rewriting the rules in their favour so they become untouchable.

“The Human Rights Act and access to the European Convention of Human Rights has empowered people in the UK to enforce their rights in practice. It has enabled people to challenge unlawful policies, be treated with dignity by public authorities and secure justice for their loved ones.

“The Government’s plan is to weaken and undermine this, taking power away from the public to take for themselves. We all know this Government cannot be trusted to keep its word or play by the rules. We’re urging everyone to not let them get away with this looting of our rights. Speak up and make your voice hard.”

Justice Committee Chair Sir Robert Neill MP said: “The Bill of Rights is likely to include
proposals of real significance, and to some, considerable concern, both from a constitutional standpoint and in terms of their potential impact on the rights of individuals. The fullest amount of scrutiny should follow, including, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights recently recommended, pre-legislative scrutiny. It is disappointing that the Government has chosen not to go down this path and I would urge it in the strongest possible terms to reconsider.”

Labour peer Baroness Helena Kennedy QC: “The failure by the Government to provide an opportunity for pre scrutiny of legislation which affects fundamental human rights and the framework of our national engagement with the ECHR is disgraceful and is further testament to the cavalier disregard for real parliamentary oversight and for the Rule of Law.”

Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP said: “Avoiding pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill of Rights is yet another example of Boris Johnson’s attempts to avoid being held to account by MPs across the House, legal experts and the British public. This overt veiling of our democratic processes is shameful.”

Scottish National Party Justice Spokesperson Anne McLaughlin MP said: “What exactly is the UK Government so afraid of? They know that refusing pre legislative scrutiny of the Bill of Rights is extreme, much like doing away with the Human Rights Act is extreme which is why they don’t want questions asked. Never mind the Government being afraid, we, the people, should be terrified and we must fight this with every fibre of our collective beings.”

 

Letter from 150+ Civil Society Organisations to Justice Secretary requesting pre-legislative scrutiny of a ‘Bill of Rights’

 

Contact the Liberty press office on 07973 831 128 or
pressoffice@libertyhumanrights.org.uk

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