This webinar on 20 September had initially been planned to devise strategies to campaign against the proposed Bill. It was led by Laura Treveleyan, campaign manager – human rights team, and Ian Southerden, programme director – law and human rights, who began with some background. Reviewing the Human Rights Act has been in the Conservative Party manifesto since 2005 but has gained steam in recent years. Robert Buckland, when Justice Secretary, announced an independent review chaired by a former Supreme Court Judge. This recommended few changes, but when Dominic Raab, a long-term opponent of the Act, became Justice Secretary, he decided on a consultation process on the Act. This produced 13,000 responses, mainly positive. Nevertheless, a draft Bill was rushed through, partly as a response to what was seen as interference by the European Court of Human Rights over deportations to Rwanda.
The focus of the webinar turned to what might happen next. Because anti-human rights views are often connected to immigration policies and deportations (relying on human rights legislation is the only argument a potential deportee has) one possibility is a new Immigration Act. Another is that the government weakens the ties between the European Court on Human Rights and domestic courts e.g. by changing the wording of domestic courts’ duties vis-à-vis European Court judgements. A more worrying possibility is to further increase anti-European Court rhetoric and then to include withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights in the manifesto for the next election. This would create practical difficulties internationally – for example, with respect to trade agreements and the Good Friday Agreement – but the webinar leaders viewed this as a distinct possibility. The final advice in the webinar was to continue to educate ourselves about the Human Rights Act, to talk to as many people as possible about its importance and to contact our MPs and, if possible, members of the House of Lords, to advocate for its retention.