latest news

Former appeal court judge to lead UK review of Human Rights Act

A former court of appeal judge has been appointed to lead a review into how the Human Rights Act (HRA) is being interpreted in UK courts.

Sir Peter Gross, who retired last year, will chair a panel of legal experts to examine the way in which judges rule on protections in the legislation.

Ministers allege it is being exploited inappropriately, in particular to prevent deportation of those categorised as “foreign-born criminals”. Labour’s justice spokesman, David Lammy, said the government was attacking human rights in the middle of a pandemic.

The HRA, introduced by the Labour government in 1998, incorporates rights established under the European convention on human rights – itself substantially the drafting work of British lawyers after the second world war.

There have been repeated Conservative party pledges at successive elections to remove or radically alter the act. The last manifesto in 2019 simply promised to “update” the HRA.

The government’s approach is shifting towards looking at how the act operates rather than mounting a full-frontal attack on its existence.

However, civil rights groups fear the policy is aimed at severely limiting the scope of legal protections for asylum seekers, victims and other vulnerable groups.

The review will examine the relationship between UK courts and the European court of human rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg and whether dialogue between domestic courts and the ECHR works effectively.

It will also consider the impact of the HRA on the relationship between the judiciary, executive and parliament, and “whether domestic courts are being unduly drawn into areas of policy”.

Additionally it will look at the way in which the HRA applies outside the UK – a concern also being addressed in the government’s controversial overseas operations bill.

The justice secretary, Robert Buckland, said: “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.”

Gross said: “The act constitutes a most important part of our legal framework; [the review] will entail an independent process of careful reflection to consider its workings, together with whether and, if so, what, reforms might be justified.”

Many disputes around the act focus on interpretations of article 8 in the convention, which guarantees the right to respect for private and family life.

For example, last month the ECHR, which considers claims that the convention has been breached, ruled the UK had violated the right to family life of a Nigerian man deported in 2018, one of whose children had a rare congenital heart defect. In that case British courts were criticised for adopting too narrow an interpretation of the protections.

The panel of experts taking part in the review includes members of Policy Exchange, a thinktank strongly supportive of the government’s constitutional reform policies, as well as experienced human rights academics and lawyers.

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.”

Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, 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.

“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.”


You may also like