The UK Government has today published what should more aptly be called the ‘Removal of Rights Bill’, designed to weaken the protection of human rights and the rule of law. In an example of the ‘big lie’ school of politics, this draft legislation is called a “Bill of Rights Bill,” as though it will enhance rights rather than destroy them.
In fact, this law would repeal the Human Rights Act, which brings the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, restrict the power of courts to control Ministers, and allow the deportation of asylum seekers and others to Rwanda and elsewhere. While the draft law stops short of withdrawing from the European Convention entirely, it does rule out following interim injunctions, which is in itself a breach of the Convention and the UK’s obligation under it. It also claims to affirm the independence of the UK Supreme Court from Strasbourg, but only in the direction of limiting, not expanding rights.
The Bill includes claims to strengthen the right to freedom of speech as against other rights, limit courts’ powers for certain rights and reduce positive duties on public authorities, including where there is a positive duty to protect life and to filter out cases with a further permission stage.
Amongst other things, this law is a direct attack on the Good Friday Agreement. Full incorporation of the European Convention in domestic law was a key aspect of the Agreement. Since then, the Human Rights Act has become part of the fabric of good governance in Northern Ireland, not least by underpinning the police reform process.
Brian Gormally, Director of CAJ said: “This ‘rights removal bill’ is just the latest assault on the rule of law by the current government. This is nothing more than a power grab designed to further weaken proper accountability and scrutiny of our law makers and those that implement their policies and should be of deep concern to all our citizens. It follows another shocking piece of legislation; the Legacy Bill, also now passing through Parliament, which proposes a total amnesty for Troubles-related offences and an end to any recourse to law of any kind for victims. We have also seen a law allowing secret security services, and a range of other bodies, to authorise any type of criminal conduct by their agents, the threat to breach international law by tearing up the Northern Ireland Protocol and the highly repressive Nationality and Borders Bill.
“In Northern Ireland in particular, we need more rights, not less. We need an increasingly autocratic government to be constrained by the rule of law. We don’t need the ‘rights removal bill.’ We will work with colleagues across these islands and elsewhere in the continuing fight for human rights, peace and democracy.”
Brian Gormally is available for interview. Email email@example.com or call 077 1833 6147 / 028 9031 6000.