Rights Removal Bill officially dropped

Today the Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk has confirmed that the so-called Bill of Rights Bill has been dropped. Humanists UK welcomes the confirmation, having campaigned hard for precisely this end.

The Bill was dubbed the Rights Removal Bill by its critics because it sought to repeal and replace the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). It proposed a roll back on a number of provisions within the Act that enable ordinary citizens to challenge the state when their freedoms have been violated.

The Bill was first published in June 2022, shelved in September, resurrected in November but then reportedly de-prioritised. The Joint Committee on Human Rights called on the Government to scrap the Rights Removal Bill, in line with Humanists UK’s own advocacy. Earlier this year the Times reported the Bill was dropped and this has been confirmed today in Parliament by the Lord Chancellor the Rt Hon Alex Chalk QC MP who said (from 12:33):

I can inform the House we have decided not to proceed with the Bill of Rights. But let me say that the Government remains committed to a human rights framework that is up to date and fit for purpose and works for the British people. We have taken and are taking action to address specific issues with the Human Rights Act and the European Convention including through the Illegal Migration Bill, the Victims and Prisoners Bill, and Overseas Operations Act 2021 and indeed the Northern Ireland Legacy Bill… It is right that we recalibrate and rebalance our constitution over time. That process continues.’

Humanists UK has been leading what is believed to be the largest UK coalition of groups to campaign on human rights, mobilising over 250 charities, trades unions, and human rights organisations in calling for the protection of the Human Rights Act.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘We welcome today’s confirmation that the Rights Removal Bill has been shelved. It is vital that ordinary citizens have powers to defend their freedoms against an overbearing state, and the Bill threatened those very powers. We will continue to guard against future erosion of human rights provisions.’

Impact on the non-religious

The Human Rights Act 1998 currently means that public bodies and the courts are able to read additional words into laws and policies, where this is required in order to uphold human rights.

In particular, where a law or policy just refers to religion, this must be understood to include non-religious beliefs, even though those words are not written in the law or policy itself.

Therefore the Human Rights Act makes it possible to stop such laws and policies discriminating against the non-religious in areas like education, pastoral care, or public service provision without anyone having to go to court. And if someone does have to go to court, the court can then fix the problem without the public authority having to change the policy, or Parliament having to amend the law.

Indeed, there have been countless instances where individual humanists have won equality for the non-religious without having to go to court. This includes challenging the exclusion of humanists from the bodies that set RE syllabuses and securing the provision of humanist and non-religious pastoral care in prisons and hospitals.

Ongoing threats to human rights

Despite the welcome development that the Bill has been dropped, Humanists UK remains deeply concerned that the Human Rights Act remains under attack, as indicated by the speech given by the Justice Secretary. Provisions in the Illegal Migration Bill (sometimes referred to as the Refugee Ban Bill) and the Victims and Prisoners Bill, set a dangerous precedent for how human rights protections are at risk of backsliding in the UK by stripping universal human rights away from certain groups of people. Humanists UK signed a joint letter coordinated by the British Institute of Human Rights to the Joint Committee on Human Rights expressing its concerns over recent attacks on the Human Rights Act.