The Memo: Scrap heap challenge for Raab’s Bill of Rights

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Scrap heap challenge for Raab’s Bill of Rights

Jamie Rocha-Sharp – 23 January 2023

The UK government’s proposed bill of rights – set to replace the Human Rights Act 1998 – is on thin ice. In December 2021, the UK government announced proposals to reform the HRA in its current form, and replace it with a Bill of Rights. This would, the government argued, change the way that rules laid out by the European Convention on Human Rights are interpreted by the UK courts. The proposals included introducing specific circumstances in which foreign nationals could claim the right to a family life to avoid deportation, and reinforcing the freedom of speech. The proposals were, the government claimed, a matter of common sense, and would help to shift the emphasis from European law.

Crucially, in repealing the HRA, the proposed bill would impose new restrictions on how human rights are used and applied in cases against the government. Under the new parameters, courts would need to consider parliament’s intention (and recognise parliament’s sovereignty) in their interpretation of the relevant laws, and case law from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) would not necessarily need to be taken into account. While the changes would not abscond the UK from the international obligations set out by the ECHR, critics argued that they would result in delays. Without automatic consideration of the case law set out by the ECHR, individuals would have to apply directly to Strasbourg for an injunction. In cases where there are imminent time pressures, such as deportation matters, there may, in short, not be enough time.

Having already been placed on hold by Liz Truss’ administration, the bill is now facing the scrap under the new prime minister Rishi Sunak. Backed by the secretary of Justice, Dominic Raab, the bill had featured in the Conservative manifesto, meaning that the bill could in theory be enacted without intervention from the House of Lords. However, many in parliament believe the bill goes far beyond what’s included in the Conservative manifesto. Amongst other challenges facing Sunak’s government, the bill of rights may be heading for the chopping block.

If you're interested in learning more: take a look at our human rights & immigration practice area guide here.