Liberty responds to Queen’s Speech: a road to less accountability, more state control

Posted by Clare Collier on 19 December 2019

Today’s Queen’s Speech is the first real indication of the size of the challenge we will come up against in the coming months and years.

Unlike the Queen’s Speech earlier this year – and bear in mind that was only two months ago – this one was a sign of wholesale regime change.

It sets out what we feared and suspected. We now have a Government seeking to fatten state power while shrinking its accountability.

Two key elements demonstrate this; one is an attack on the Human Rights Act and the other is the establishment of a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission which threatens to undermine our constitutional settlement, the rule of law and our fundamental rights protections.

If you’re pressed for time, the ‘in a nutshell' version of what the Government is seeking to do is to block our routes to justice. In doing so, it would put itself above the law. That is dangerous.

No one is above the law and this includes – and must always include – the Prime Minister and any other elected official.

The speech itself was scant on detail, what we know from their previous statements is that this Government has in its sights judicial review, the independence of our courts and the integrity of our human rights framework.

Judicial review is a crucial tool which everyone can use to hold the powerful to account. It’s been used to tear up oppressive laws such as mass surveillance powers and block abuses of power from the top levels of Government to local councils and police forces.

It offers the hope of justice to people when Government and public agencies behave outside the law. Attempts to change this should be viewed with deep suspicion.

Similarly, the pledge to prevent the Human Rights Act from ever applying to incidents that occurred before it came into force will have sinister outcomes both for those directly affected by this change and for the integrity of the Act.  

The Human Rights Act doesn’t need updating. It’s brilliant, it works. In fact, it has become increasingly effective for what it was built to do – to hold the Government to account and to keep powerful, bureaucratic institutions in check.

The Act can sometimes apply to situations which arose before it came into force where the state was directly involved in a death and seeks to cover it up. It can take many years for the families of victims to achieve justice.

What the Government is proposing is an attempt to take out politically inconvenient elements of the Act, the bits that force Government to admit miscarriages of justice.  

This move would undermine the fundamental basis of the Act - that it applies to everyone, in all situations. This simple premise is the only way effective justice can be sought.

At Liberty, we have a proud history of achieving justice with the Act; defeating oppressive laws and championing the rights of individuals who needed our help.

The other promises made today are stark reminders of why this check on power is so vital.

The promise to expand stop and search, to create new powers to criminalise Travellers and to introduce mandatory voter ID, to name a few, are characterised by dog-whistle policymaking that rejects evidence and sacrifices the rights of individuals to enhance state control.

What’s worth remembering in all of this is that we now have a majority Government, and with that comes power – lots of power.

And while we can all theorise and debate about what people were voting for in this election, we can be sure that people didn’t vote to create a super-state that’s prepared to stamp over human rights and remove individual freedoms while simultaneously stripping itself of accountability.

This Queen’s Speech has made clear that holding the powerful to account is more important than ever. For nearly a century, Liberty has been doing just that, challenging Governments of all colours to ensure our rights and freedoms are protected.

Our pledge to you this Queen’s Speech is to continue this work, to stand against injustice and ensure the powerful are held to account. Stand with us. Stand up to power.  

If you’re a journalist and want more detail on the impact of the Bills put forward in today’s Queen’s Speech, contact the Liberty press office.

Clare Collier

Clare Collier

Advocacy Director