Future of the Human Rights Act 1998

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Westminster Hall Debate
Future of the Human Rights Act 1998
30 June 2015
For more information, please contact:
Finola Kelly, 020 7832 7826
[email protected]
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Introduction
We welcome this debate on the important matter of the legal framework
for human rights in the United Kingdom.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (the Commission) is an
independent body established by the Equality Act 2006 and tasked with
protecting and promoting equality and human rights for everyone in
Great Britain. We have a mandate from Parliament to promote
understanding of the importance of human rights, and to advise
Government about the likely effect of proposed changes to the law.
As an ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) accredited by
the United Nations, we have a formal role in monitoring compliance with
international and domestic human rights obligations. We also promote
and protect the human rights and civil liberties that form the bedrock of
many British values and institutions.
The UK Government has stated that it:
“will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the
Human Rights Act.
This would reform and modernise our human rights legal
framework and restore common sense to the application of human
rights laws. It would also protect existing rights, which are an
essential part of a modern, democratic society, and better protect
against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws.1
The Commission’s position on proposed changes to the
human rights legal framework
The Commission welcomes the opportunity to contribute to a debate on
the future of the Human Rights Act 1998. We also welcome the
Government’s assurance that new legislation would protect existing
rights.
The Commission has always said that any changes to the legal
framework must not reduce essential human rights protections, nor
weaken the redress mechanisms for breaches of human rights.
Prime Minister’s Office, Queen’s Speech 2015, 27th May 2015, available at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/430149/QS_lobby_pac
k_FINAL_NEW_2.pdf
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We look forward to contributing to the development of ideas, but would
not support a reversal of the leading global role Britain has long played
in protecting and promoting human rights. We also welcome the
opportunity to address a number of public concerns and
misunderstandings about the way human rights law operates at present.
As the national expert body, we will continue to engage with
Government as proposals are developed, and we would expect to
contribute fully to any consultation. As further details of the proposals
become available, we will continue to assist Government and Parliament
by providing analysis of their implications.
Explanation
We live in a country with a long history of upholding people's rights,
valuing diversity and challenging intolerance. Fairness, dignity and
respect are values we all share.
Human rights law has protected older and disabled people who are
receiving care from abuse, protected the freedom of our press and
defended the rights of British servicemen and women fighting abroad to
have the appropriate equipment when risking their lives on behalf of the
nation.
The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates into domestic law the
European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It enables British
people to make claims in British courts rather than having to go through
the costly and time-consuming process of going to a European court. Of
those UK cases which do reach the European Court of Human Rights,
only a very small number result in findings against the UK, which shows
how well human rights are currently respected in this country.
The mechanisms for enforcement contained in new legislation must be
accessible and effective. The current debate allows us to consider
whether there might be scope to improve protection by making access to
redress for those whose human rights have been breached faster and
less expensive.
The legal framework provided by the Human Rights Act 1998 both
reflects and is embedded in our constitutional arrangements. In
particular, it maintains parliamentary sovereignty and a primary role for
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domestic courts in the interpretation of the ECHR and is central to the
arrangements for devolution in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
At this stage it is not appropriate for us to speculate on any specific
future proposals, but we look forward to a continuing constructive
dialogue with Government as it develops its proposals. We are
committed to helping both Parliament and Government to uphold the
human rights that we all enjoy.
About the Equality and Human Rights Commission
The Equality and Human Rights Commission is a statutory body
established under the Equality Act 2006. It is responsible for promoting
and enforcing the laws that protect fairness, dignity and respect. It
contributes to making and keeping Britain a fair society in which
everyone, regardless of background, has an equal opportunity to fulfil
their potential. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age,
disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership,
pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual
orientation. It encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998
and is accredited by the UN as an ‘A status’ National Human Rights
Institution.
Find out more about the Commission’s work at:
www.equalityhumanrights.com
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