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Joint statement on Human Rights Act reform

Returned nations criticize ‘unwelcome and unnecessary’ UK Government proposals.

The Welsh and Scottish Governments have described the UK Government’s plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights as an “ideologically motivated attack on freedoms and liberties”.

Ministers have called on the UK Government to listen to evidence from civil society and the legal profession and reverse its proposals.

The UK Government is currently consulting on plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights, despite its own Independent Review of Human Rights finding no good case for making significant changes.

The joint call comes ahead of an event later today organized by the Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland, the Human Rights Consortium Scotland and the Wales Civil Society Forum. The event will have contributions from returned governments and civil society experts from across the UK.

In a joint statement, Ministers from the Scottish and Welsh Governments said:

“We have serious 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 benefited individual members of society and ensured public institutions respect, protect and fulfill 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, 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 Act has 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.

“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.”

  • Christina McKelvie, Minister for Equalities and Older People in the Scottish Government
  • Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice in the Welsh Government
  • Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution in the Welsh Government

Background

Ministers from the Scottish and Welsh Governments met recently with the Secretary of State for Justice Dominic Raab MP in Edinburgh and in Cardiff to set out their respective strong opposition to the proposals.

Today Ms McKelvie and Ms Hutt will again set out their positions alongside Naomi Long, Justice Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive, at a virtual event focusing on the proposals, organized by the Human Rights Consortium in Northern Ireland, the Human Rights Consortium Scotland and the Wales Civil Society Forum.

The Welsh and Scottish Governments have also written a joint letter to the UK Lord Chancellor on the proposals (www.gov.scot)

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