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by Kirsteen Paterson
30 June 2022
Rethink 'regressive' Bill of Rights, Joanna Cherry MP tells Dominic Raab

Joanna Cherry gives an interview outside the Supreme Court in 2019

Rethink 'regressive' Bill of Rights, Joanna Cherry MP tells Dominic Raab

The government must reconsider plans to replace the Human Rights Act after 'failing' to prove reform is needed, Joanna Cherry QC has told the Deputy Prime Minister.

In a newly-published letter, the Edinburgh South West MP says the government "has failed to make the case" for axing the Human Rights Act in favour of its proposed Bill of Rights.

Raab has brought forward the Bill of Rights Bill to "strengthen our UK tradition of freedom whilst injecting a healthy dose of common sense into the system," he told parliament.

It proposes a number of changes and aims to "make clear that the UK Supreme Court is the ultimate judicial decision-maker on human rights" and that UK courts do not "always" have to follow case law from the European Court of Human Rights.

But in a 14-page letter for Westminster's Joint Committee on Human Rights, Cherry – the acting chair of the cross-party body – says the shift would lead to a "regression" in legal protections.

And she states that information provided to parliament contains "alarmingly superficial analysis of the human rights implications of this Bill" and "seems to ignore certain significant human rights implications entirely".

Inviting Raab to appear before the panel, she wrote: "Given the overwhelming lack of support for these radical reforms, the government should consider whether repealing the Human Rights Act and replacing it with this Bill of Rights is really democratic and necessary. We think not."

She went on: "Our overarching and predominant concern on the introduction of the legislation remains the same: that the Bill would weaken the protection of human rights in the UK."

The Bill includes provisions aimed at protecting the press and freedom of expression by introducing a stronger test for courts to consider before ordering journalists to disclose their sources.

It also reduces obligations on public authorities, lifting the current need for police forces to tell gang members about threats towards them from rivals.

It further seeks to confirm that some orders from the European Court of Human Rights, such as that preventing the planned first flight of asylum seekers to Rwanda, are "not binding on UK courts", amongst other measures, while retaining the UK's "fundamental commitment" to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Cherry's letter says existing legislation has had a "positive" impact on the culture of public bodies including police and health authorities and proposes steps to strengthen this further, including by embedding the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into law.

And it states that "the tone of the government’s rhetoric around reform gives the impression that human rights are inconvenient for public authorities and upholding them is contrary to the public interest", adding: "We think it should be an uncontroversial proposition, and hope the government would agree, that human rights benefit everyone and must be afforded strong protection."

The committee will publish a full report in due course.

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