Largest human rights coalition ever assembled defends Human Rights Act and judicial review

An unprecedented coalition of over 220 organisations have spoken out against the UK Government’s new plans to reduce the scope of judicial review. They have together formed a coalition to defend human rights and judicial review from Government attack. The coalition, established by Humanists UK, is believed to be the largest human rights coalition in UK history. Those joining include charities, trades unions, human rights bodies, and religion or belief groups. Yesterday the Government published a new Bill that will curtail judicial review, if it becomes law.

The coalition’s statement says:

‘While every system could be improved, and protecting rights and freedoms for all is a balancing act, our Human Rights Act is a proportionate and well-drafted protection for the fundamental liberties and responsibilities of everyone in this country.

‘The Act guarantees the rights to free speech and expression, to life, to liberty, to security, to privacy, to assembly, and to freedom of religion or belief. It prohibits torture and guarantees fair trials and the rule of law.

‘Judicial review is an indispensable mechanism for individuals to assert those rights and freedoms against the power of the state. Any government that cares about freedom and justice should celebrate and protect these vital institutions and never demean or threaten them.’

The coalition has been joined by organisations including:

  • Homelessness charities: Shelter, Emmaus, and the Big Issue Foundation;

  • Disability and medical groups: Disability Rights UK, Disability Equality Scotland, Discrimination Law Association, Down’s Syndrome Association, Leonard Cheshire, the Terrence Higgins Trust, the National Aids Trust, the Psychotherapy and Counselling Union, the Locum Doctors’ Association, and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB);

  • Environmental groups: Greenpeace, Compassion in World Farming, Friends of the Earth, Water Witness International, Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland, and the Wildlife Trusts;

  • Refugee groups: the Joint Council on the Welfare of Immigrants, Refugee Action, Migrants’ Rights Network, Freedom from Torture, and Scottish and Welsh Refugee Councils;

  • Women-focused groups: the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Fawcett Society, Refuge, Birthrights, Women’s Aid, and the Women’s Budget Group;

  • LGBT groups: Stonewall, Peter Tatchell Foundation, Kaleidoscope Trust, Rainbow Migration, Mermaids, and the Rainbow Project;

  • Children’s rights groups: Save the Children, the National Children’s Bureau, Children England, Children in Scotland, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, Article 39, and Article 12 in Scotland;

  • Race equality groups: Race on the Agenda, the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, the Race Equality Foundation, Race Equality First, Southall Black Sisters, and the Northern Ireland Council for Racial Equality;

  • Religious groups: British Muslims for Secular Democracy, Catholic Agency For Overseas Development, René Cassin, the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, the Network of Sikh Organisations, Quakers in Britain, and Belfast Islamic Centre;

  • Prison reform groups: the Howard League for Penal Reform, Reprieve, Revolving Doors, and the Prison Reform Trust;

  • Free speech groups: Index on Censorship, Article 19, British Association of Journalists, English and Scottish PEN, and Reporters without Borders;

  • Human rights and democracy groups: Amnesty International UK, the Baring Foundation, Barrow Cadbury Trust, the British Institute of Human Rights, Human Rights Consortium, the Equality Trust, Equally Ours, Samaritans, and Unlock Democracy.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

‘To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest ever coalition of organisations formed in the UK to defend human rights or judicial review. We have all come together because we are concerned that Government plans place citizens’ rights under threat.

‘The Human Rights Act says that the state cannot abuse citizens’ rights to life, liberty, or security. Nor can it deny them their freedom of speech, expression, religion, or belief. Judicial review is the tool by which citizens can guarantee those rights. Together they make up a vital safeguard against any abuse of power by the state. Neither should be curtailed.’

Rachel Logan, Amnesty UK’s legal programme director, said: 

‘Without judicial review as a safety net, ministers would often remain unaccountable and untouchable.Unfortunately, this Government does not like having its homework marked and this looks like a deliberate assault on a key legal safeguard. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and judicial review isn’t in the slightest bit broke.’

Oliver Robertson, Head of Witness and Worship, Quakers in Britain said:

‘Human rights and judicial review are cornerstones of our democracy. They recognise there are some things people are entitled to just because they’re human, and that the rules apply equally to all. Those who make the law have a duty to make sure it fulfils our human rights and is upheld fairly. Quakers in Britain have joined this campaign, coordinated by Humanists UK, because of our commitment to equality and justice. Quakers see all human lives as equal in the eyes of God.’

What the Government is doing on human rights and judicial review

Judicial review is an essential safeguard against the misuse of public power. It enables ordinary citizens to get redress when they have been subjected to unlawful decisions. Last year, the Government launched an independent panel to examine the case for reforming judicial review powers. It considered exempting certain subjects or Government actions from being reviewable at all. The outcome of this review in May was that the panel cautioned against radical reform. But the Government now plans to push ahead with proposals that its own panel rejected. Its plans include to abolish a procedure that protects the rights of asylum seekers, and mean that public bodies that are found to have breached the law may not have to correct their unlawful actions swiftly.

Earlier this year, the Government also launched a panel to review the Human Rights Act, which is yet to report. In March, the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights held its own review of the Human Rights Act. Its interim findings concluded there is ‘no compelling case for reform of the Human Rights Act’. It found that the Act ‘respects parliamentary sovereignty’ and ‘provides an important mechanism which allows individuals to enforce their rights which would be impossible for most people’.