Urgent call to respond to the Human Rights Act consultation – A Guide
March 2, 2022
The Human Rights Consortium has developed a short guide to help civil society organisations respond to the current UK Government’s consultation on reform of the Human Rights Act.
This guide is intended to provide support to our members and other civil society organisations who may wish to formulate a response to the consultation given how important the Human Rights Act (HRA) is to the wider human rights framework in Northern Ireland, and sets out a summary of the main issues and questions in the consultation with some short suggestions on how to respond.
The Consortium is deeply concerned about the existence, content, and possible impact of the UK Government’s consultation exercise. The consultation sets out concerning proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights. This new Bill proposes to undermine local access and enjoyment to the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and would fundamentally reduce legal protection for human rights in the UK.
Part of the rationale for creating the HRA in 1998 was to make these convention rights more accessible domestically in the UK. This has been a really important protection for individuals across the UK because it maintains a basic degree of consistency of approach in judgments between domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg when it comes to the interpretation of Convention rights.
The Strasbourg case law has also helped develop and enhance the meaning of convention rights in the UK with numerous cases being positively influenced by reference to what has previously been decided at the European level. This consultation potentially turns that on its head and may lead to uncertainty of access to existing rights and an increased number of UK cases going to Strasbourg in the future.
The consultation also proposes the introduction of a permission stage for claims using Convention rights. There are already tests that need to be met in order for cases to proceed under the HRA and there are also, unfortunately, many other existing barriers to bringing cases, such as lack of access to legal aid and strict time limitations. This proposal would only create further barriers for individuals to access the courts and the protection of their ECHR rights and it would serve to reinforce negative stereotypes that there are those who are deserving or undeserving of protection from violation of their rights.
The UK Government’s proposals would interact significantly with devolved law and there is a high degree of consistency and shared concern both across the UK and between devolved Ministers and civil society. In Northern Ireland, the Human Rights Act has played a fundamental role in protecting human rights for over twenty years as a core commitment of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The proposals, if implemented, would represent a violation of the Agreement and would seriously undermine one of the cornerstones of the peace process.
Like other devolved regions of the UK, the public in Northern Ireland wants to see the direction of travel for human rights to be forward and not backward. These proposals represent a regression that is out of line with public opinion and the majority of political parties in NI, and there is an urgent need for civil society to have their voices heard.
The guide to responding to the Human Rights Act consultation can be downloaded here.
The UK Government consultation has a closing date of 8th March, and can be found here: Human Rights Act Reform: a Modern Bill of Rights – Ministry of Justice – Citizen Space.
The British Institute of Human Rights’ detailed question by question guide is available here, and a wide range of additional resources around the Human Rights Act Reform and information about how you can get involved is available here.
Liberty’s short question-by-question guide is available here.
For a more general overview see this piece on Each Other’s website here.
Equally Ours has also produced a ‘policy pointers’ document to help people with their submissions which is available here.