The Bill, which sought to reform human rights law by repealing the Human Rights Act 1998 (‘HRA’) and replacing it with a new framework to implement the European Convention on Human Rights (‘ECHR’) has been scrapped by the Prime Minster, Liz Truss.
Under the proposed Bill, the courts would have no longer been obliged (so far as was possible) to interpret domestic law in a way that was compatible with human rights law. Unsurprisingly, it was heavily criticised for weakening human rights protection in the UK in several ways, including the rights of foreign nationals facing deportation and their right to private and family life, prisoners, and potential victims of abuse by the UK armed forces.
The Bill was introduced to the House of Commons and had its First Reading on 22 June 2022, following an independent review and government consultation on human rights reform. The second reading of the Bill was scheduled for 12 September 2022 but did not go ahead.
The HRA remains in force and continues to create a legal obligation for all public authorities – including the Home Office (as with other governmental departments), the courts, police, the armed forces, local councils etc. – to protect individuals’ rights in all their decisions and actions. It is unlawful for a public body to act in a way that is incompatible with a Convention right unless an Act of Parliament requires it.
The HRA was designed to strike a balance between the protection of human rights and the UK’s parliamentary supremacy. In other words, no court (either in the UK or in Strasbourg) can strike down or override an Act of Parliament. A UK court can only declare an Act of Parliament to be incompatible with a right, thereby alerting Parliament that it should consider a change to the law.
Accordingly, the UK remains a state party to the ECHR, continues to be bound by Convention obligations and individuals can challenge the UK at the European Court of Human Rights. As long as the UK remains a party to the ECHR, these obligations cannot be overridden by any change in domestic law.
By Stefanie Alvarez – Pupil Barrister