Tory plot to weaken human rights law is ‘unashamed power grab’, says human rights group

Dominic Raab will be announcing reforms to the Human Rights Act on Tuesday

Plans to weaken the Human Rights Act (HRA) by the Tory government have been called a “blatant, unashamed power grab” by a civil liberties organisation. 

Campaigners have raised concerns over plans to alter the HRA, which will be unveiled by justice secretary Dominic Raab in the Commons on Tuesday (15 December), warning that the rights of British people could be “fatally weakened” by the changes. 

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has said the expected reforms will “allow more scope” for judges to override rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, rather than following them “blindly”.

The HRA was brought in by the Labour government in 1998, and incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. The European Court is responsible for interpreting the convention.

Although the UK will remain party to the convention, the MOJ has said the reforms would “restore Parliament’s role as the ultimate decision-maker” on laws affecting the UK.

The reforms are also expected to include a tightening of the interpretation of Article 8, which protects the right to family life. This means that when faced with deportation, it will be harder to cite the right to family life with relatives who live in the UK in any appeals.

It is claimed that as many as seven out of 10 successful human rights challenges were brought by foreign national offenders who cited a right to family life. 

Raab said the reforms will add a “healthy dose of common sense” to the interpretation of legislation and rulings.

In effect, the expected reforms will give more power to Parliament to override rulings from the European Court of Human Rights, and make it tougher to appeal deportation on the basis of Article 8. 

The expected reforms will give more power to Parliament to override rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Martha Spurrier, director at Liberty, described the plans as “a blatant, unashamed power grab”. 

She added: “Today’s announcement is being cast as strengthening our rights when in fact, if this plan goes through, they will be fatally weakened. 

“This government is systematically shutting down all avenues of accountability through a succession of rushed and oppressive bills. We must ensure the government changes course as a matter of urgency, before we very quickly find ourselves wondering where our fundamental human rights have gone.”

Amnesty has previously warned that the Government’s independent review into the HRA could put LGBT+ rights at risk

Amnesty UK director Kate Allen said: “Tearing up the Human Rights Act would be a giant leap backwards.

“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.

“This looks worryingly like the latest power-grabbing move from a government that doesn’t like limits on its powers or judges who tell them when they break the law.

“What the government is proposing is also a gift to tyrants the world over. How can the UK call on other countries to respect human rights protections and legal responsibilities if they are busy ripping up the rule book at home?”

A three-month consultation is expected to be launched on the changes to the HRA.