Civil society calls on Rishi Sunak to commit to keeping Human Rights Act

More than 150 civil society groups have written to Rishi Sunak urging him to commit to retaining the Human Rights Act and rule out its replacement by a British bill of rights.

The prime minister’s position in regards the proposed legislation is in doubt but Dominic Raab, having been reappointed justice secretary, remains determined to push through his pet project, which was shelved under Liz Truss’s premiership.

The British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) and 157 other organisations including Amnesty International UK, Human Rights Watch, Liberty, Child Poverty Action Group, End Violence Against Women Coalition, English PEN and Unison have written to Sunak calling on him to abandon plans to scrap the HRA once and for all.

They say they “write with heavy hearts that the UK government’s approach to our domestic law risks taking us further and further away from the legal protection of human rights”.

The letter, which was written to coordinate with global human rights day on Saturday, continues: “Human rights laws are, necessarily, uncomfortable for governments because they set limits on the exercise of power, limits which are for the benefit of people.

“No UK government need fear this … [it] should embrace the fact that our Human Rights Act provides universal protections for everyone and ensures those with public power are accountable.”

The 1998 legislation incorporated into domestic law rights set out in the European convention on human rights. The convention, which was ratified by 46 member states (including the UK), was intended to ensure governments could not dehumanise and abuse individuals’ rights.

Giving evidence to parliament’s justice committee last month, Raab, who has also returned to his deputy prime minister role, said the bill of rights would “restore some common sense to articulate a more UK-wide set of priorities for human rights and to curb some of the abuses of it”.

He also claimed it could protect victims and the public “perhaps more than was possible under the HRA”, for instance by boosting free speech.

But critics have called it a “rights removal bill”. The BIHR says the proposed legislation would:

  • Fundamentally weaken the right to respect for private and family life.

  • Remove the legal duty on courts and public bodies to interpret other laws compatibly with human rights, exposing people to the arbitrary use of laws with no checks.

  • Limit access to justice by adding barriers to bringing a human rights case to court.

  • Destroy the positive obligation on public bodies to take proactive steps to protect people from harm, including protecting domestic and child abuse survivors.

Sanchita Hosali, the chief executive of the BIHR, said “Despite the rhetoric, even a cursory reading of the rights removal bill shows it does not create new rights or strengthen existing protections. It does the exact opposite, weakening people’s current rights and access to them.

“The rights removal bill is unprincipled, unevidenced, unworkable and unnecessary.

BIHR said the signatories represented the interests of millions of people across the UK.

Other organisations that have put their names to the letter include Stonewall, the Muslim Council of Britain, Freedom from Torture, the Runnymede Trust, Rethink Mental Illness, Friends, Families and Travellers, the Prison Reform Trust and Parkinson’s UK.

A government spokesperson said: “The government is committed to protecting human rights and will always continue to champion them internationally and at home.”