The Welsh and Scottish Governments have strongly criticised the UK Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, describing it as an “ideologically motivated attack on freedoms and liberties.”
In a joint statement, Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice in the Welsh Government, Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution in the Welsh Government and Christina McKelvie, Minister for Equalities and Older People in the Scottish Government) said the UK government should listen to evidence from civil society and the legal profession and reverse its proposals.
The three ministers said: “We have grave and deep-seated concerns in relation to both the current proposals and the UK Government’s longer-term direction of travel.
“The Human Rights Act plays a critically important role in protecting fundamental human rights across the whole of the United Kingdom. For more than two decades it has benefitted individual members of society and ensured public institutions respect, protect and fulfil human rights.
“The achievements made possible by the Act encompass everything from action on women’s equality to the protection of free speech and the right to protest. It has assisted the families of service personnel to obtain justice when their rights were breached, helped secure equality on issues for LGBTQ+ people, and ensured scandals involving medical malpractice and the abuse of vulnerable patients could be publicly exposed, and supported people to challenge unfair welfare policies such as the bedroom tax.”
The ministers also said that the Act had also been of central importance in the fight for justice following the Hillsborough disaster, and the successful challenge brought by victims of the ‘black cab rapist’ in the face of serious failings by the Metropolitan Police. “And it is sobering to reflect on how a weakened Human Rights Act could have led to the deportation of yet more members of the Windrush generation.”
They added: “The Independent Human Rights Act Review concluded there was no good case for making significant changes to the Act as it currently exists based on the extensive evidence it received from some of the United Kingdom’s most eminent legal experts. Disregarding that weight of evidence and expertise to press ahead with plans can only be interpreted as an ideologically motivated attack on the freedoms and liberties protected by the Human Rights Act.
“The proposals for a ‘modern Bill of Rights’ are both unwelcome and unnecessary. We are very clear that the interests of people in Scotland and Wales are best protected by retaining the Human Rights Act in its current form.”
The UK Government's consultation can be found here. It closes on 8 March 2022.
In the foreword Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said that the Bill of Rights would be "one which reinforces our freedoms under the rule of law, but also provides a clearer demarcation of the separation of powers between the courts and Parliament".