Today, the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights has published the report of its 21-month investigation into “the creation of a UK Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law, and protects and extend our liberties.”
Before today’s report the British Institute of Human Rights analysed the published responses to Commission consultations, which suggested that the majority of the public responses supported keeping the Human Rights Act, and very few were in favour of a new Bill of Rights. These findings were confirmed in today’s report (see page 118 of Commission’s report, Volume II). Yet the extent to which this is reflected in today’s report is questionable.
BIHR’s work with frontline organisations in the public and voluntary sectors reveals how the Human Rights Act is a vital safety net, helping to protect us all from the risk of abuse, neglect and injustice and empowering communities to hold decision-makers to account. Debate on human rights in the UK has been dominated by a handful of contentious decisions and myths and misrepresentations about the Human Rights Act, sometimes from our own political leaders. Lost in the furore is the real human rights story; the voices of the many people and groups who have benefited from the HRA in everyday ways, evidence which BIHR gathers.
Stephen Bowen, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights, commenting on the release of the report said:
“The rather complex, often confusing and divided report that has been published today is a sad indictment of the way we discuss human rights. The Commission asked for the public’s views about whether we need a Bill of Rights, and the message from the majority was clear: the Human Rights Act is our Bill of Rights, and should remain part of our law. Rather than debating a new Bill of Rights we should be seeking to live up to our international reputation as a champion of human rights abroad by recognising the important role the European Convention on Human Rights, and our Human Rights Act, plays here at home.”
“The reality, which is so rarely discussed in these debates, is that human rights abuses do occur here at home. No government is above the law, and the Human Rights Act is a vital safety net which protects us all, especially in moments of vulnerability. It is important that we have a law which protects people from indifference, abuse and misuse of power and this is exactly what the Human Rights Act has been doing for the last 12 years. Giving legal backing to values of dignity, respect and fairness, the Human Rights Act has delivered important positive changes for people in everyday life. We need these vital protections to remain part of our law.”
“It appears that the main argument for a new Bill of Rights from the majority of the Commission is to increase public ownership of human rights laws in the UK. Leaving aside the rather superficial nature of a cosmetic re-brand, improved understanding of the law will not happen if attacks on the Human Rights Act continue from certain political and media quarters. Now is the time to put the human stories back into our debates about the future of human rights laws – this is the type of “re-branding” that is needed. Publication of the final report from the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights should mark the opportunity to start having a sensible debate about how the Human Rights Act works in practice and what it means for people in their everyday lives here at home.”