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🎧 How will the new human rights bill affect me?

We had a look at the UK's proposed new bill of human rights, which is splitting opinions across the world. In our original article, Emma Guy, commissioning editor at The Gazette, sat down with Dr Alwyn Jones at De Montfort University.

Leicester high street
Leicester high street © daliscar

Transcript

“Our latest episode of The Gazette Podcast is based on an article from March 2023, where our commissioning editor, Emma, interviewed Dr Alwyn Jones on the new human rights bill set to change the way our rights are protected.

“The Human Rights Act has rightfully been described as a vital safety net for every person living in the UK. Passed by UK parliament in 1998 and enacted in 2000, the law incorporates into domestic law the European Convention on Human Rights – or the ECHR. This was first proposed by former prime minister Winston Churchill and was drafted by British lawyers after the second world war. Its purpose is to protect you from harm and ensure your rights are upheld.

“However, in recent years, the Human Rights Act has made headlines across the UK due to government proposals to replace it with a new bill. This bill of rights has faced scrutiny from various stakeholders, including parliament, human rights lawyers, civil liberty groups, and even the United Nations. The UN went as far to criticize it as a “poorly drafted” law that, if passed, could make it much more challenging for people to have their rights protected.

“So, what exactly is this bill of rights, and how might it affect us in our daily lives? While its passing might not seem directly impactful to most individuals, it could have significant consequences when it comes to invoking crucial protections, such as the right to privacy.

“According to Dr Alwyn Jones, a principal lecturer of law at De Montfort University, there is a sense of anxiety surrounding the bill. Organisations supporting vulnerable groups, such as victims of violence, trafficking, and modern slavery, as well as asylum seekers and children in poverty, have expressed concerns about the potential implications of this legislation, according to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in their legislative scrutiny document.

The worry stems from the uncertainty of whether their rights will be adequately protected under the proposed bill. People in care settings, individuals with learning disabilities, and those in prisons have frequently been ignored in many different situations where they could have been exploited. Vulnerable people fear being left exposed and unsafe, as they question the level of protection they will have in the absence of a robust safety net.

“Unfortunately, this proposed bill of rights is not an isolated concern. Over the past two years, several bills introduced to parliament have faced criticism for increasing policing powers and seemingly reducing the rights of the public. Examples include the Nationality and Borders Act, the public order bill, the illegal migration bill, and, of course, the bill of rights itself.

“Dr Jones points out a disturbing pattern of the government's increasing policing powers. Laws are being passed that restrict the rights of people engaged in peaceful protests. Disruptive noise has been labelled a statutory offence of public nuisance and so has already been used to target journalists reporting on climate protests in London. This raises concerns that similar actions could take place in other cities across the UK, like Leicester.

“In such a climate of escalating police powers and strict rules for peaceful protest, the Human Rights Act plays a crucial role in balancing the scales. Section three of the act places a duty on judges to interpret the law in a way that protects human rights. However, if the proposed bill of rights is passed, people may find it harder to invoke their rights in court.

“Dr Jones said, “If somebody's in court, in trouble, because of some participation in protest, or something like that, the Human Rights Act provides an opportunity for them to say, 'well, this law does constrain my freedom of association'. Under the Human Rights Act they can make that argument. The bill of rights would remove that obligation.”

“This removal of positive obligations could significantly restrict individuals' ability to have their voices heard and defend themselves in a court of law. It could lead to an increase in convictions, with people being unable to make arguments that should be protected under their rights. Civil liberty groups, lawyers, parliament, and the public have raised a critical question: What does this bill mean for the people in our communities?

“Dr Jones highlights the potential consequences of this legislation. Individuals might face convictions or have their ability to protest constrained simply because they are unable to make arguments regarding their rights. The alternative would be for them to go through the long process of taking their case to the UK courts and potentially waiting years to reach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg to seek justice.

“However, even that assumption is contingent upon the UK remaining in the European Convention on Human Rights. With recent tensions between the government and the ECHR, which the Human Rights Act is based upon, the possibility of scrapping the Human Rights Act in favour of this bill of rights is ever present.

“We have an update for you following our original article. On the 27 June, Alex Chalk, a conservative MP confirmed in the House of Commons that plans to rewrite human rights law will be officially shelved after “having carefully considered the Government’s legislative programme in the round”.

“The Justice Secretary said ministers remain committed to “a human rights framework which is up-to-date and fit for purpose and works for the British people”.

“When we know more, The Gazette will keep you informed so stay tuned over on our website. And if you want to access more of our articles and our weekly newsletter, become a member from just £2 per month.”

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Presenter: Megan Lupton
Reporter: Emma Guy
Editors: Rhys Everquill

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