UK: Rights Removal Bill is 'giant leap backwards' for ordinary people
Responding to the introduction of the Government’s controversial Bill of Rights which will be laid before the Commons for the first time today, Amnesty said it would strip the public of its ‘most powerful tool’ to challenge official wrongdoing citing the response to the Hillsborough football disaster, delays over announcing an inquiry into the Covid pandemic, as well as serial failings in the way that police and prosecution authorities investigate endemic violence against women and warned that it represented a ‘giant leap backwards’ for the rights of ordinary people.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s Chief Executive, said:
“This Bill is a giant leap backwards for the rights of ordinary people.
“Ripping up the Human Rights Act means the public is being stripped of its most powerful tool to challenge wrongdoing by the Government and other public bodies. This is not about tinkering with rights, it’s about removing them.
“From the Hillsborough disaster, to the right to a proper Covid inquiry, to the right to challenge the way police investigate endemic violence against women, the Human Rights Act is the cornerstone of people power in this country. It’s no coincidence that the very politicians it holds to account want to see it fatally weakened.
“Recent polling shows that the horrors of Ukraine have brought the value of basic human rights home to everyone in this country, and the public does not want the Government weakening basic human rights protections. The UK must not undermine the global system of human rights by letting politicians pick and choose which rights they think people in this country should have.
“‘Human rights are hardwired into Northern Ireland’s peace agreement and given effect, in part, through the Human Rights Act. It’s ironic that at a time when Ministers are professing their commitment to the Good Friday Agreement, they are now threatening one of its fundamental tenets. Any change in the operation of the Human Rights Act could constitute a breach of the Good Friday Agreement and undermine the finely-balanced peace.”
Positive obligations apply to all public authorities making it incumbent on them to take positive steps to protect rights rather than merely restrain themselves from violating them.
For example, they are integral to the ability of families to secure effective inquiries into deaths where the state may be responsible, such as the Covid inquiry. They are also vital to the ability of victims to hold the police accountable for serious failures in conducting effective investigations in rape cases, such as the John Worboys offences.
Public support for Human Rights Act
In a recent poll* commissioned by Amnesty, almost three-quarters of respondents (73%) said they thought it was important to have the Human Rights Act as a safety net to hold the Government to account when things go wrong such as Hillsborough football disaster or the handling of the Covid pandemic.
The poll also showed that war in Ukraine had increased public support for human rights with almost four out of five (79%) of those surveyed saying that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had made it more important that countries like the UK uphold human rights, while almost two-thirds (65%) believed that reducing human rights protections in the UK would have a negative impact on the UK’s ability to stand up for human rights on the global stage.
International and cross-party UK concerns over proposals
The UK government’s intention to scrap the protections in the Human Rights Acts have raised alarm at the UN. In her outgoing speech as UN High Commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, said:
“I am worried about plans in the United Kingdom to replace one of the most important pieces of its human rights legislation - the Human Rights Act - with more limited legislation. I have concerns that repeal of key elements of the Human Rights Act would risk undermining access to justice and the right to effective remedies, introduce legal uncertainty, and increase costs.”
These concerns were echoed by the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. The committee said, “We do not think a case has been made for replacing the Human Rights Act with the British Bill of Rights in the form proposed by the Government”.
A Government-appointed independent panel, led by Sir Peter Gross, has also considered and discounted many of the provisions in the bill. The panel found that the Human Rights Act was functioning well in its present form.
Amnesty has highlighted 23 reasons why we need the Human Rights Act.
Polling: *Savanta ComRes interviewed a nationally-representative online survey of 2,277 UK adults between 29 April and 2 May. Full results can be viewed at: https://comresglobal.com/polls/amnesty-international-uk-human-rights-act/