The Queen’s Speech sets out the legislative agenda for the year to come. In all, 38 Bills were cited, several considered controversial and with an impact on human rights. These include the Online Safety Bill (dealing with harmful content online); the Victims’ Bill (to help victims have greater confidence in the criminal justice system); the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill (requiring universities and student unions to protect freedom of speech); the Conversion Therapy Bill (intended to ban conversion therapy for gay but not transgender people); the Public Order Bill (designed to target environmental protesters); the Legacy and Reconciliation Bill (aimed at providing reconciliation to those whose loved ones were killed during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and protecting soldiers at that time from prosecution); the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill (to prevent public bodies engaging in boycotts of, for example, Israeli goods produced in the Occupied Palestinian Territories), and the Bill of Rights.
Some are in draft form for pre-legislative scrutiny and some have already had their Second Reading which is the first opportunity members of Parliament have to debate the principles behind the Bill before it goes to the Committee Stage. We will monitor the progress of each through Parliament in subsequent Newsletters, but we want to spell out now the potential dangers in the proposed Bill of Rights.
A Bill of Rights or the Removal of Rights?
The government is proposing to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights with the intention to ‘restore the balance of power between the legislature and the courts’. However, it will have the effect of undermining rights and protections in the UK; make it even harder for ordinary people to challenge unfair treatment; and damage the UK’s ability to stand up for human rights internationally.
The Human Rights Act protects all of us. It enshrines the universal rights we have as human beings and allows us to challenge authorities if they violate them. It is a safety net, working to ensure rights are respected, and a crucial defence for the most vulnerable.
- It worked for the Hillsborough families in their fight for justice.
- It worked for the victims of serial rapist John Worboys who prevented his release on parole.
- It worked to overturn the near total ban on abortion in Northern Ireland.
It does not need to be changed. To date, more than 50 groups including Amnesty, Liberty and the British Institute of Human Rights have written to the Prime Minister warning of the significant implications of repealing the Human Rights Act.