With the UK Government reaffirming proposals to replace the Human Rights Act, UNA-UK has joined 130 groups - including the Down's Syndrome Association and Football Supporters' Federation - in pledging its support for the Act, which safeguards the fundamental freedoms of people in the UK.
The Queen's Speech on 18 May reiterated the Government's plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. According to the Government, the benefits of the Bill would be to "continue protecting fundamental human rights" and to "better protect against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws". It states that it will "consult fully" on the proposals before the Bill is brought to Parliament, although the timetable for a national consultation has yet to be disclosed.
Signed by Amnesty International UK, Liberty and many other NGOs, the pledge reads:
While UNA-UK was pleased to see the Government state that the rights in their proposals would be based on those set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, and while the Government is yet to publish these proposals, UNA-UK does not believe that a compelling case has been made to date as to why the current system should be abandoned or why it could not be strengthened through reform.
The Human Rights Act incorporates the provisions of the European Convention into UK law, thereby enabling people in this country to claim the legal rights they had enjoyed since the 1950s under the British court system. It effectively made the Strasbourg court a court of last resort, rather than first resort.
UNA-UK is committed to the principle and practice of incorporating international obligations into domestic law. Although we are not wedded to particular mechanisms, we believe the Act has, on balance, operated effectively, built up crucial case law and provided people in the UK with important avenues for redress. Any changes to the current system must maintain and build upon current protections, and should be assessed by the extent to which they strengthen the voice and agency of the vulnerable and marginalised.
We are also concerned that the process will be, at best, a time-consuming "rebranding" exercise and at worst, a gateway to the dilution of human rights protection in this country. We are also concerned about the impact that these changes could have internationally. Our evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee made the link between the UK’s reputation and performance on human rights and its soft power.
The UK has played a leading role in setting the international laws and norms that protect human rights around the world today. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and an elected member of the Human Rights Council, the UK continues to occupy a position of influence on the world stage. Any perceived failure to live up to these standards or to “downgrade” them, is likely to hamper the UK’s ability to further its interests in fora such as the UN and may also harm the furtherance of these standards more broadly.
Photo credit: No. 10 Downing Street