Bill of Rights will seriously undermine freedom of expression in the UK

22 Jun 2022 - nBY INDEX ON CENSORSHIP


The Government claims that replacing the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights will strengthen freedom of expression.


Today, the UK Government presented its new Bill of Rights before Parliament, claiming that it will “restore a proper balance between the rights of individuals, personal responsibility and the wider public interest”. In reality, the new Bill will undermine the universality of all human rights and weaken the ability of courts to give effect to protection of fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression. It will expand state power and hamper efforts to hold the Government to account, joining other legislative measures – such as the Judicial Review and Courts Act 2022 – that have reduced the ability to challenge government overreach.


The Bill is set to replace the Human Rights Act, which has protected human rights and the freedom of expression of people living in the UK for over twenty years.


The Government claims that replacing the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights will strengthen freedom of expression. As human rights organisations that promote and defend the right to freedom of expression worldwide, we unequivocally reject this false narrative. Freedom of expression is too important to be used as cover for weakening the protection of human rights. On the contrary, as detailed in our joint consultation response, the Human Rights Act has bolstered free expression in the UK in a number of areas: strengthened defamation law; enhanced protection of journalistic sources and material; strengthened protection of the right to protest; and restricted perception-based recording of non-crime incidents, among other things.


ARTICLE 19, Index on Censorship and English PEN believe that if the Government is serious about its purported goal to strengthen freedom of expression in the UK, it should instead focus its attention on reforming a number of problematic laws and legislative proposals it has brought forward, including the National Security Bill, the Online Safety Bill, the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, the Public Order Bill, and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act.


We urge the Government to abandon any proposal that would replace or weaken the Human Rights Act in any way. Moreover, it must follow the normal procedures for introducing new law – particularly a bill that could have such sweeping repercussions – and allow for proper, thorough democratic scrutiny of the bill. Rushing through such legislation could put the protection of human rights of the people in the UK at risk and fail to offer the levels of protection to which they are entitled, and which the Human Rights Act has already enshrined in law. One of the justifications for the Bill of Rights is to give greater weight to the views of elected lawmakers. By reducing the opportunity for these same lawmakers to scrutinise the Bill, it demonstrates the hollow commitment to democracy and the rule of law that underpins this Bill.


In the letter to Justice Secretary,

Dominic Raab, this month, our organisations were among a coalition of 150 organisations from across civil society that called on the Government to provide pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposed Bill of Rights. We warned that the proposal to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act would be a significant constitutional reform, which requires careful and robust consideration. The rights of individuals could be compromised if such a process was hurried.


FULL TEXT OF LETTER


FAO: Rt Hon Dominic Raab Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Ministry of Justice 102 Petty France London SW1H 9AJ United Kingdom Dear Justice Secretary,

Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of a ‘Bill of Rights’ We write as more than 150 civil society organisations and leaders to share our urgent concern about the Government’s statement of 9 June 2022 that it does not intend to submit its Bill of Rights for pre- legislative scrutiny.

As highlighted by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Justice Committee, Lords Constitution Committee, and Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the proposals set out in the Bill of Rights are of “supreme constitutional significance and have the potential to impact on the rights of individuals for many years to come.” Ministers of the devolved nations have highlighted how the Government’s proposals to replace the Human Rights Act threaten to undermine the devolution settlement.

It is therefore highly disappointing and worrying that the Government has rejected calls from Parliamentary Committees representing both Houses and all major parties to ensure that these measures are subject to the fullest amount of public and parliamentary scrutiny.

Pre-legislative scrutiny of these plans is made ever more important by the divergence between the proposals and the findings of the independent panel established by the Government to review the operation of the Human Rights Act. The panel, chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross, found that the HRA is operating effectively to preserve parliamentary sovereignty and protect individuals’ rights. The Government’s subsequent proposals ignored these findings and pushed vastly beyond the panel’s scope to a position that would be a vast and deeply consequential overhaul of human rights protection in this country.

Proposed legislation of such constitutional importance and with potentially vast-ranging impact on the rights of individuals and their ability to defend those rights requires careful and robust consideration, which can only be achieved if elected members of Parliament and peers in the House of Lords are given the time and space to fully consider its implications.

We urge the Government to respect the principles of our parliamentary democracy and subject the proposed Bill of Rights to the pre-legislative scrutiny it clearly requires. Yours sincerely,

  1. Martha Spurrier, Director, Liberty

  2. Kevin Hanratty, Director, Human Rights Consortium

  3. Isobel Ingham-Barrow, CEO, Community Policy Forum

  4. Mia Hasenson-Gross, Director, René Cassin

  5. Svetlana Kotova, Director of Campaigns & Justice, Inclusion London

  6. Helen Moulinos, Chief Executive, POhWER

  7. Silkie Carlo, Director, Big Brother Watch

  8. Naomi Smith, CEO, Best for Britain

  9. Paddy Kelly, Director, Children's Law Centre

  10. Annie Viswanathan, Director, Bail for Immigration Detainees

  11. Dr. Daniel Ehighalua, Legal and Advocacy Director, Rights and Security International, UK.

  12. Estelle du Boulay, Director, Rights of Women

  13. Louise King, Director, Children's Rights Alliance for England

  14. Phil Booth and Sam Smith, Coordinators, medConfidential

  15. Harriet Wistrich, Director, Centre for Women's Justice

  16. Carolyne Willow, Director, Article 39

  17. Gisela Valle, Director, Latin American Women's Rights Service

  18. Andrea Simon, Director, The End Violence Against Women Coalition

  19. Nicole Francis, Chief Executive, ILPA

  20. Barbora Bukovská, Senior Director for Law and Policy, ARTICLE 19

  21. Fiona Rutherford, Chief Executive, JUSTICE

  22. Dave Timms, Head of Political Affairs, Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland)

  23. Jess McQuail, Director, Just Fair

  24. Sacha Deshmukh, Chief Executive, Amnesty International UK

  25. Mhairi Snowden, Director, Human Rights Consortium Scotland

  26. Marguerite Hunter Blair, CEO, Play Scotland

  27. Ailsa MacKenzie, Chief Officer, The Pyramid at Anderston

  28. Kat Lorenz, Director, Asylum Support Appeals Project

  29. John Cairns Campaign Coordinator Scottish CND

  30. Agnes Tolmie chair of The Scottish Women’s Convention

  31. Mark Hazelwood, CEO, Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care

  32. Steve Crawshaw, Policy and Advocacy Director, Freedom from Torture

  33. Asma Abdalla, CEO, Empower Women for Change

  34. Nazek Ramadan, Director, Migrant Voice

  35. Tom Brake, Director, Unlock Democracy

  36. Margaret Simpson MBE MSC FRSA Director/CEO

  37. Shivali Fifield, Chief Officer, Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland

  38. Barry Gale, Leader, Mental Health Rights Scotland

  39. Clare MacGillivray, Director, Making Rights Real

  40. Dr Donald Macaskill, Chief Executive, Scottish Care

  41. Fraser Sutherland, Chief Executive, Humanist Society Scotland

  42. Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector

  43. Lucila Granada, CEO, Focus on Labour Exploitation (FLEX)

  44. Alison Douglas, Chief Executive, Alcohol Focus Scotland

  45. Steve Crawshaw, Policy and Advocacy Director, Freedom from Torture

  46. Tim Naor Hilton, CEO, Refugee Action

  47. Moira Tasker, CEO Inclusion Scotland

  48. Brian Gormally, Director, Committee on the Administration of Justice

  49. Tim Hopkins, Director, Equality Network

  50. Maggie Lennon, Director, Bridges Programmes

  51. Sara Redmond, Chief Officer of Development, Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland

  52. Robert Rae, Director, Art27 Scotland

  53. Sanchita Hosali, CEO, The British Institute of Human Rights

  54. Dr Sarah Wishart, Creative Director, EachOther

  55. Sandra Stephens, Lead Advocacy Worker, Advocacy Western Isles

  56. Maureen Martin CEO Edinburgh Development Group

  57. Pippa Goodfellow, Chief Executive, Alliance for Youth Justice

  58. Robert Moore, Secretary North Wales Regiional Equality Network

  59. Alastair Hudson - CEO HIV Scotland

  60. Jardine Simpson, Chief Executive , Scottish Recovery Consortium

  61. Suzanne Swinton, CEO, Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance

  62. Chris Jones, Director, Statewatch

  63. Very Rev Dr Susan Brown, Convener - Faith Impact Forum, the Church of Scotland

  64. Kathy Evans, CEO, Children England

  65. Sara Ogilve, Director Policy, Rights and Advocacy, Child Poverty Action Group

  66. Louise Willson, Deputy Chief Executive, Outside the Box

  67. Deborah Coles, Executive Director, INQUEST

  68. Anna Ritchie Allan, Executive Director, Close the Gap

  69. Jen Persson, Director, defend digital me

  70. Mark Lee, Chief Executive, Together Trust

  71. Ruth Marks, Chief Executive, Wales Council for Voluntary Action

  72. Azmina Siddique, Policy and Impact Manager, The Children's Society

  73. Louise Hunter, CEO, Who Cares? Scotland

  74. Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK

  75. Shoaib M Khan, Human Rights Lawyer

  76. Siobhán Hyland, Chair, Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council

  77. Phyllida Swift, CEO, Face Equality International

  78. Sarah Mistry, CEO, British Geriatrics Society

  79. Veronica Gray, Deputy CEO, Hourglass (Safer Ageing)

  80. Amy Gibbs, CEO, Birthrights

  81. Khatuna Tsintsadze, Co-Director, Zahid Mubarek Trust

  82. Sarah Vibert, Chief Executive, National Council for Voluntary Organisations

  83. Lynne Turnbull, Chief Executive Officer, Disability Positive

  84. Cathy Anne Dunn, Manager, Advocacy Western Isles

  85. Dr Judith Turbyne, Chief Executive, Children in Scotland

  86. Danielle Roberts, Senior Policy Development Officer, Here NI

  87. Yasmin Rehman, CEO, Juno Women's Aid

  88. Juliet Harris, Director, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children's Rights)

  89. Audrey Ludwig, Director of Legal Services, Suffolk Law Centre

  90. Annette Lawson, Chair, the Judith Trust

  91. Joe Powell, Chief Executive, All Wales People First

  92. Jonathan Senker, Chief Executive, VoiceAbility

  93. Julie Bishop, Director Law Centres Network

  94. Polly Neate, Chief Executive, Shelter

  95. Kadra Abdinasir, Strategic Lead, Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition

  96. Justine Forster, CEO, Advocacy Focus

  97. Chris Minnoch, CEO, Legal Aid Practitioners Group

  98. Bryan Michell, CEO, My Life My Choice

  99. Kari Gerstheimer, Chief Executive, Access Social Care

  100. . Karen Parry, Chief Executive Officer

  101. . Joyce Kallevik, Director, Wish

  102. . Pauline Lunn, Director, In Control Scotland

  103. . Recording Clerk (CEO), Quakers in Britain

  104. . Lubia Begum-Rob, Director, Prisoner's Advice Service

  105. . Karen Chandler, Chief Officer, Pembrokeshire People First

  106. . Annemarie McClure, CEO Start360 N. IRELAND

  107. . Kerry Smith, CEO, Helen Bamber Foundation and Asylum Aid

  108. ..Norman L. Reimer, Global CEO, Fair Trials

  109. . Rhian Davies, Chief Executive, Disability Wales

  110. . Katharine Sacks-Jones, CEO, Become

  111. . Tracey Lazard, CEO, Inclusion London

  112. . Halima Begum, CEO, Runnymede Trust

  113. . Tressa Burke, Chief Executive Officer, Glasgow Disability Alliance

  114. . Heléna Herklots CBE, Older People’s Commissioner for Wales

  115. . Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations, Mind

  116. . Maggie Lennon, National Committee Member, Women for Independence

  117. . Independence for Women

  118. . Aisling Playford, The Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland

  119. . Ewan Roberts, CEO, Asylum Link Merseyside

  120. . Deborah Gold, Chief Executive, National AIDS Trust

  121. . Ruth Smeeth, CEO, Index on Censorship

  122. . Christy Taylor, Chief Executive, Caerphilly People First

  123. . Frances Lynne Evans, Director, RCT People First

  124. . Simon Starling, Director of Policy, Advocacy and Research, Bond

  125. . Jatin Haria, Executive Director, Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (Scotland)

  126. ..Christina McAnea, General Secretary, UNISON: The Public Service Union

  127. . Mark Day, Head of Policy and Communications, Prison Reform Trust

  128. . Samantha Clark, CEO, Learning Disability England

  129. . Yasmine Ahmed, UK Director, Human Rights Watch

  130. . Ben Leather, Director, Peace Brigades International UK Section

  131. . Meghan Campbell, Deputy-Director of the Oxford Human Rights Hub

  132. . Andy Elvin, CEO, TACT

  133. . Helen Wildbore, Director, Relatives & Residents Association

  134. . Beth Cadger, National Co-Coordinator, Article 12 in Scotland

  135. . David Mackie, Convenor, Howard League Scotland

  136. . Maureen O'Neill, Director Faith in Older People

  137. . Colin Lee, Chief Executive, CEMVO Scotland

  138. . Clare Moody, Co-CEO, Equally Ours

  139. . Murray Hunt, Director, Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law

  140. . Dr Mhairi Crawford, CEO, LGBT Youth Scotland

  141. . Catherine Tuitt MBE, Trustee, Tower Hamlets Law Centre

  142. . Rocio Cifuentes MBE, Children's Commissioner for Wales

  143. . Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland

  144. . Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People

  145. . Jo Hickman, Director, Public Law Project

  146. . Baroness Helena Kennedy, Director, IBA's Human Rights Institute

  147. . Emma Norton, Director, Centre for Military Justice

  148. .. Patricia Durr, CEO, ECPAT UK

  149. . Ian Williams, Dates-n-Mates Scotland

  150. . Emily Bolton, Director, APPEAL

  151. . Frances O'Grady, General Secretary, Trades Union Congress

  152. . Sarah Mann, Director, Friends, Families and Travellers

  153. . Lui Asquith, Director, Mermaids

  154. . Daniel Gorman, Director, English PEN

  155. . Melanie Carter, Chair Steering Committee, Public Law Solicitors Association

  156. . Ben Leather, Director, Peace Brigades International (PBI) UK

  157. . James Wilson, Deputy Director, Detention Action


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