Government decision to review Human Rights Act during pandemic branded 'bonkers'

Robert Buckland

Robert Buckland - Credit: Parliament Live

The government's decision to review the country's human rights laws has been branded "bonkers" by Labour, with campaigners warning it would be a "giant leap backwards" if they were torn up.

Former Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross will lead a panel which will consider whether the Human Rights Act needs to be reformed, some 20 years after it was brought into force.

A report on recommendations from the review is expected in the summer next year.

Last year’s Conservative election manifesto pledged to take a fresh look at how the Act operates and to protect human rights to make sure the law “continues to meet the needs of the society it serves”.

Areas the review will consider include the impact of human rights laws on the relationship between the judiciary, the government and parliament, whether “domestic courts are being unduly drawn into areas of policy”, and how rulings from the European Court of Human Rights are taken into account in UK courts.

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David Lammy MP, shadow justice minister, said it was "bonkers" the decision had been made during a pandemic.

“It is bonkers that the government is prioritising launching an attack on human rights in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic," he said.

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“Unlike the Conservatives, Labour is proud of this country’s leading role in developing human rights following the second world war.

“There is no need for a review into the rights and freedoms that underpin our democracy and all of us enjoy.”

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said the laws “must be protected for the good of our democracy”, adding: "For years, our laws and legal processes have made sure that governments and public bodies can be challenged when they make bad decisions.

“The plans announced today and over the past six months are focused on limiting our ability to do this.”

Amnesty International UK warned tearing up the Human Rights Act would be a “giant leap backwards”.

The campaign group’s director Kate Allen said: “From Hillsborough to Grenfell to the appalling mishandling of the recent Covid crisis in care homes, we have never so badly needed a means to hold the Government to account, and we know that the Human Rights Act does that extremely effectively.

“It took ordinary people a very long time to win these rights and we mustn’t let politicians take them away with the stroke of a pen. This looks worryingly like the latest power-grabbing move from a Government that doesn’t like limits on its powers or judges who tell them when they break the law.”

But the Ministry of Justice said the UK remains “committed to the European Convention on Human Rights”, insisting the review is limited to looking at the “structural framework of the Human Rights Act, rather than the rights themselves”.

Justice secretary Robert Buckland added: “Human rights are deeply rooted in our constitution and the UK has a proud tradition of upholding and promoting them at home and abroad.“After 20 years of operation, the time is right to consider whether the Human Rights Act is still working effectively.”

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