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Previous Justice Secretary takes aim at human rights reforms

Sir Peter Gross [left] and Sir Robert Buckland MP [right]

Sir Robert Buckland MP and Sir Peter Gross have spoken out against the Government’s planned changes to the Human Rights Act 1998. Sir Robert is the previous Justice Secretary to Dominic Raab, while former Court of Appeal Judge Sir Peter chaired the UK Government-commissioned Independent Human Rights Act Review Panel. They highlighted that the reforms were outdated and not in line with expert legal opinion. Humanists UK has campaigned in favour of maintaining strong human rights protections. It has welcomed these comments.

In December, Sir Peter’s Review published its report recommending minimal change to the Human Rights Act. Despite this, the Government went ahead and published proposals to drastically ‘reform and replace the Human Rights Act’ with a British Bill of Rights. Many of the Government’s proposals went against the recommendations of its independent panel of experts.

On Monday, Sir Robert spoke at a conference held by the research group UK in a Changing Europe. He said of the planned reforms:

‘I do not think that we should seek to replace the Human Rights Act with a bill of rights. Doing so runs the risk of… upset[ting] our constitutional balance… In short, we should abandon the uncertainty of a bill of rights, make targeted and specific domestic reforms instead, and seek to work for further reform at international level.’

These comments were echoed by Sir Peter Gross. He rejected claims made by the Government that its reforms are in line with the findings of the independent panel. Speaking at University College London on Wednesday  night, he said:

‘Our report concluded that the Human Rights Act is generally working well but could work even better with the package of improvements proposed. The reaction of [the] Government has been to produce the Ministry of Justice consultation paper, which does not respond to ours, is not grounded in anything even approximating the exercise we conducted, but nevertheless asserts that the Human Rights Act is not working well.’

Humanists UK leads a coalition of over 250 charities, trades unions, and human rights organisations calling for protection of the Human Rights Act and judicial review. It is believed to be the largest ever UK coalition of groups campaigning for human rights.

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, 

‘We welcome Sir Robert and Sir Peter’s comments about the proposed reforms to the Human Rights Act . The Act is the essential tool in guaranteeing citizens’ freedoms of thought, speech, religion, and belief, and guaranteeing their rights to life, liberty, and security.

‘We are seriously concerned about plans to remove the power of the state and courts to reinterpret legislation and guidance to make them human rights-complaint. That will undermine the rights and freedoms of humanists. It will make it harder for them to challenge discriminatory policies or actions by the state.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read Sir Robert Buckland’s speech.

Read more about Sir Peter Gross’ lecture. 

Read the Government’s proposals.

Read Humanists UK’s response to the Government’s proposals.

Read more responses to the Government’s proposals.

Read the Independent Human Rights Act Review Panel’s report.

Read more about our Judicial Review and Human Rights Act Coalition.

Read more about our work on protecting human rights.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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