What is the British Bill of Rights that would replace the Human Rights Act?

·5-min read
Judges at the European Court of Human Rights were wrong to grant an injunction which effectively grounded a flight sending asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda, Dominic Raab said (PA) (PA Wire)
Judges at the European Court of Human Rights were wrong to grant an injunction which effectively grounded a flight sending asylum seekers from the UK to Rwanda, Dominic Raab said (PA) (PA Wire)

The government is planning to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, limiting the power of European judges.

Despite the proposed changes, the government says the UK would remain committed to the European Convention on Human Rights.

So what would change under the British Bill of Rights?

What is the proposed British Bill of Rights?

The proposed British bill of rights would replace the Human Rights Act (HRA).

The government claims that the bill of rights would “ensure courts cannot interpret laws in ways that were never intended by Parliament and will empower people to express their views freely.”

It also claims it would “prevent trivial human rights claims from wasting judges’ time and taxpayer money.”

What is the Human Rights Act?

The Human Rights Act of 1998 protects the human rights of everyone in the UK.

It gives effect to the human rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, which include the following fundamental rights:

  • the right to life

  • the right to respect for private and family life

  • the right to freedom of religion and belief

The Human Rights Act allows people to take action in the UK courts if their human rights have been breached.

This was introduced by Labour in 1998 and enshrined the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law.

An organisation called the Council of Europe is behind the convention which has nothing to do with the European Union.

What is the European Convention on Human Rights?

The European Convention on Human Rights is an international treaty that secures fundamental civil and political rights.

It secures the right to life, the right to a fair hearing, the right to respect for private and family life, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and the protection of property.

It prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, slavery and forced labour, death penalty, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and discrimination in the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention.

What is the European Court of Human Rights?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is an international court set up in 1959 to rule on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Its judgments are binding on the 46 Council of Europe member states that have ratified the Convention.

Why does the government want to replace the HRA?

One of the reasons the government wants to replace the HRA is because it claims that the current system allows foreign criminals to claim that being removed from the UK would breach their right to family life. The Bill of Rights, however, would make it easier to deport people.

Recently, the European Court of Human Rights granted an interim injunction preventing the first asylum seekers from being forcibly removed to Rwanda, going against the government’s wishes.

But the bill of rights would make it clear that European Court of Human Rights judgments would not be binding in UK courts.

It would allow the UK court to deviate from the European Court’s rulings, rather than have to follow them.

Critics say the Human Rights Act has led to “perverse” judgements, including a ruling that found the UK’s blanket ban on prisoners voting was unlawful in the past.

Previously, a controversial ruling said radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada shouldn’t be deported to Jordan to face trial on terrorism charges.

The ECHR said some of the evidence used against him may have come from torture, but following many years of legal battles, Qatada was eventually deported, by then Home Secretary Theresa May.

What has the government said?

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, who introduced the measures in a new bill of rights to be placed before parliament today, said: “The Bill of Rights will strengthen our UK tradition of freedom whilst injecting a healthy dose of common sense into the system.

“These reforms will reinforce freedom of speech, enable us to deport more foreign offenders and better protect the public from dangerous criminals.”

Raab said it would prevent what he called “abuse of the system” by criminals “relying on Article 8 - the right to a family life - to frustrate their deportation from this country”.

He said such claims make up about 70% of successful human rights challenges by foreign national offenders appealing deportation orders.

He said Parliament must have “the last word” on human rights and that the UK Supreme Court “bows in subordination” to the European Court of Human Rights.

What have human rights groups said?

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, the UK’s largest civil liberties organisation, said in a statement: “Let’s be clear: this Bill is a power grab by a Government that has no respect for our rights.

“The Human Rights Act protects everyone from injustice and abuse of power, and allows us to stand up to the government and institutions like the police or local councils when they get it wrong.

“We can’t let them get away with ransacking our rights like this.”

Spurrier added: “From the families of Hillsborough victims to military veterans, people use the Human Rights Act every day to stand up for their rights and get justice.

“But under the Government’s plans, it will become much harder for people – including disabled people and survivors of violence against women and girls – to access justice.

“This is a Government that repeatedly changes the rules to suit them, and is now planning to rip up the basic rights and protections we all rely on to make themselves untouchable.”

Supporters also say that the original European convention on human rights was written by British lawyers after World War Two.

They argue that many human rights cases have involved victims challenging governments for gross failures to protect them.

Supporters also point to a ruling that the UK had violated the human rights of several homosexual soldiers who had been dismissed from the armed forces because of their sexuality.

This case led to the law on the sexuality of those who can serve in the UK’s armed forces being changed.

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