Report: Plans for ‘British Bill of Rights’ risk weakening existing human rights protections
The UK government’s proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a new British Bill of Rights risk weakening existing human rights protections, Westminster’s joint committee on human rights has warned.
In a new report, the committee warns that the new regime could cause confusion and result in more cases being sent to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). It also finds that attempts to strengthen freedom of speech could undermine the enforcement of other rights.
In particular, the committee says giving greater importance to freedom of expression would likely damage rights including the right to privacy and the right to a fair trial.
It argues that placing greater restrictions on who can bring a human rights claim, or reducing the damages owed to a claimant because of a perception of them being undeserving, would contravene the fundamental principle that human rights are universal.
Meanwhile, proposals designed to distance the UK courts from decisions made in the ECtHR would create legal uncertainty, requiring lengthy and costly litigation to resolve and more cases being taken to Strasbourg.
The committee concludes that fears that UK courts are taking decisions that should be made by Parliament are unfounded, as is the perceived need for the right to a trial by jury to be included in a Bill of Rights.
Harriet Harman, chair of the joint committee on human rights, said: “The government’s case that human rights legislation is in serious need of reform is not proven. There is nothing in their consultation that would serve to strengthen the protections we currently have and much that would weaken them.
“In many cases what is described as the strengthening of rights is simply tweaking what is already protected, while at the same time making it harder for people to actually enforce their rights.
“At present, freedom of expression is protected and given proper balance with other rights that are also important. The courts respect the primacy of Parliament when making their rulings so there is no need for change on that. Most human rights cases are heard in UK courts by the UK judiciary rather than Strasbourg judges in the European Court of Human Rights.
“The government is purporting to solve non-existent problems and offering solutions that would only cause confusion and detriment to those who need their rights protecting.
“If the government wanted to strengthen human rights they would improve how they are respected in general, improve education so that everyone knows their rights and improve access to the courts for those needing to enforce them. Improving awareness and understanding of human rights and access to the courts would have a beneficial impact unlike the government’s current proposals.”