The so-called Bill of Rights Bill has been reportedly shelved again. Humanists UK welcomes the news, but remains deeply concerned at ongoing attacks on the provisions of the Human Rights Act.
The Bill was dubbed the Rights Removal Bill by its critics because it sought to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). It proposed a roll back on a number of provisions within the Human Rights Act 1998 that enable ordinary citizens to challenge the state when their freedoms have been violated.
The Bill was first published in June 2022, shelved in September, resurrected in November but then reportedly de-prioritised. The Joint Committee on Human Rights called on the Government to scrap the Rights Removal Bill, in line with Humanist UK’s response to the Committee’s call to evidence last year.
However, Humanists UK remains deeply concerned that the Human Rights Act remains under attack. Even if the Rights Removal Bill has been dropped, provisions in the Illegal Migration Bill (better known as the Refugee Ban Bill) and the Victims and Prisoners Bill, set a dangerous precedent for how human rights protections are at risk of backsliding in the UK by stripping universal human rights away from certain groups of people. Humanists UK signed a joint letter coordinated by the British Institute of Human Rights to the Joint Committee on Human Rights expressing its concerns over recent attacks on the Human Rights Act.
Humanists UK has been leading what is to believed the largest UK coalition of groups to campaign on human rights, mobilising over 250 charities, trades unions, and human rights organisations in calling for the protection of the Human Rights Act.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:
‘The Rights Removal Bill is terrible legislation and we, along with many politicians and civil society organisations, have called for it to be abandoned in its entirety. We welcome reports that it has been scrapped but will continue to campaign against the continued erosion of human rights provision in the UK.’
Impact on the non-religious
The Human Rights Act 1998 currently means that public bodies and the courts are able to read additional words into laws and policies, where this is required in order to uphold human rights.
In particular, where a law or policy just refers to religion, this must be understood to include non-religious beliefs, even though those words are not written in the law or policy itself.
Therefore the Human Rights Act makes it possible to stop such laws and policies discriminating against the non-religious in areas like education, pastoral care, or public service provision without anyone having to go to court. And if someone does have to go to court, the court can then fix the problem without the public authority having to change the policy, or Parliament having to amend the law.
Indeed, there have been countless instances where individual humanists have won equality for the non-religious without having to go to court. This includes challenging the exclusion of humanists from the bodies that set RE syllabuses and securing the provision of humanist and non-religious pastoral care in prisons and hospitals.
Removal of other key human rights protections
The shelved Bill – vigorously championed by former Justice Secretary Dominic Raab would also have introduced ‘a permission stage in court… requiring people to show they have suffered a significant disadvantage before their claim can go ahead.’
This is despite courts already having an admissibility process, providing adequate safeguards against frivolous litigation, whereby claimants need demonstrate that their claim has a ‘reasonable prospect’ of success. Instead of safeguarding against people bringing time-wasting cases to court, the Bill would have simply placed another barrier in the way of ordinary people seeking justice.
The Bill would have also weakened the links between UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This change was likely to result in a lower standard of protection for UK citizens, and, therefore, more claimants seeking redress in the Strasbourg court rather than their own national courts. The additional costs and delays involved in taking a case to Strasbourg is prohibitive for most claimants resulting in a reduction in the power of UK citizens to hold the Government to account.
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Public Affairs Manager Karen Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07534 248 596.
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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.