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Suzanne Townley

News Editor, Solicitors Journal

Bill of Rights will 'drive coach and horses' through human rights law

Bill of Rights will 'drive coach and horses' through human rights law


The Law Society and human rights experts share concerns over the proposed overhaul 

The Law Society, members of the profession and human rights experts have responded with concern over the government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights.

The Law Society has warned “driving a coach and horses” through existing human rights law risks damage to the UK’s international standing, which could impact how attractive it is as a business centre.

Human rights expert, Dr Ruth Brittle, lecturer at Nottingham Law School, commented: The good news is that the UK will remain in the ECHR system. The bad news is that if you are a criminal or behave badly, you do not deserve human rights. Apparently, this makes common sense”. 

Law Society president, I. Stephanie Boyce, said: “People from all walks of life rely on the Human Rights Act to protect their rights and hold the state to account – to live free from government interference, to access vital services or to ensure the right balance is struck between freedom and security.

“Any reform of this subtle and carefully crafted legal instrument must be led by evidence not driven by political rhetoric”.

She added: “The so-called Bill of Rights would make life easier for government at great cost to the nation, eroding our rights, placing the UK outside the international community and on a collision course with the European Court of Human Rights”.

Boyce said the Society is calling on the government to “strengthen rather than maim” our legal system and reputation as a leader in human rights protections.

The Law Society also observed the proposals were at odds with the advice of the independent expert panel appointed by the government 12 months ago. Brittle agreed: “These proposals are based on uncorroborated evidence and selective statistics which support the government’s anti-human rights narrative”. 

Boyce said the “most damaging proposal” for access to justice was the creation of a class of “acceptable human rights abuses”. She explained these were those deemed not to have caused ‘serious disadvantage’ and that anyone would have to pass this test of ‘serious disadvantage’ to be allowed to bring a human rights claim to the courts.

The Law Society president said: “That would affect each and every one of us and lead to a culture of disrespect for human rights in decision-making, with rights breaches that might be seen as ‘low level’ becoming acceptable because they could no longer be challenged, despite being against the law”.

Boyce also warned: “Proposals that people would have fewer protections for their rights if they have committed some sort of undefined offence in the past would overturn the principle that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law – and would mean the state could violate some people’s rights without consequence”.

Brittle agreed. She said: "According to Raab (The Times, 14th December 2021) “rights come with responsibilities” and the core message in his piece for The Times is that some people deserve human rights, others do not – as if there is some merit system where you earn points which can be exchanged for rights. He ignores the fact that the ECHR allows for balancing of competing interests including the rights of others”. 

Boyce added: “One defined group is further singled out to have their rights stripped: foreign offenders. Proposals suggest they should be forbidden from appealing a deportation order except in specific and narrow circumstances, or blocked from protecting their rights, without any consideration for how long they have lived in the UK, the family they have here or their familial and social connections in the country to which they would be deported.

“This is disproportionate and unnecessary – foreign offenders can already be deported in the public interest even where there are arguments against this based on their right to family life. Let alone that such a move would simply shunt appeals to the European Court of Human Rights, resulting in further cost and delay.

Boyce concluded: “No rights-respecting nation should be prepared to take forward these suggestions”.