David Lammy has described as “bonkers” the decision by the government to launch a review of the Human Rights Act while the UK is currently still dealing with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Shadow Justice Secretary slammed the unveiling of the review by Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland this morning, who declared that “now is the right time to take a fresh look” at the legislation introduced in 1998.
The government has argued it is committed to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), incorporated into domestic law by the HRA, and that the review is “limited to looking at the structural framework rather than the rights themselves”.
Commenting on the timing of the announcement from the government today, Lammy said: “It is bonkers that the government is prioritising launching an attack on human rights in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
“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.”
The ECHR is an international convention to protect human rights and political freedoms in Europe drafted in the 1950s, and includes articles on fair trials, freedom of expression, free elections and privacy.
The HRA, which received royal assent in November 1998 and came into force in 2000, provides a remedy for the breach of the convention rights available in UK courts and removes the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
The Conservatives promised in their 2019 manifesto to “update the HRA” and the government this morning revealed that the review will consider the performance of the legislation in three areas:
- The relationship between the domestic courts and the ECtHR, including the duty to ‘take into account’ ECtHR case law;
- The impact of the human rights legislation on the relationship between the judiciary, the executive and parliament; and
- The way in which the HRA applies outside the UK and whether there is a “case for change”.
Former court of appeal judge Sir Peter Gross will chair a panel of legal experts to undertake the review. It will include members of Policy Exchange, a think tank strongly supportive of the government’s constitutional reform policies.
Civil rights groups and campaigners have voiced concerns that the government intends to limit the scope of legal protections under the HRA for asylum seekers, victims and other vulnerable groups.
Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen said: “Tearing up the Human Rights Act would be a giant leap backwards. It would be the single biggest reduction in rights in the history of the UK.”