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Concerns raised about Human Rights Act reform

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The Welsh Government has raised its “significant concerns” with UK Government plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights.

Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice, and Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, have published a joint statement setting out the Welsh Government’s conviction that people’s rights should not be weakened.

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The Human Rights Act sets out minimum standards of how people should be treated by public bodies. The UK Government has published a consultation seeking views on replacing the Act.

Jane Hutt, Minister for Social Justice, said: “The Human Rights Act sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to. Under the latest proposals a new Bill of Rights would not reflect some of the key principles and protections in the Human Rights Act.

“We have been clear and consistent that we will not tolerate any dilution of rights and consider it essential that the United Kingdom remains a world leader. Safeguarding and advancing human rights remains our priority and we would strongly object to any proposals that threaten that.”

Mick Antoniw, Counsel General and Minister for the Constitution, added: “We have significant concerns about the UK Government’s proposals that weaken rights, for example preventing a court from quashing certain secondary legislation found to be incompatible with a person’s human rights. The consultation appears to raise significant issues with regard to accessibility to the courts, the rule of law and the role of the Courts in the application of the law relating to human rights.

“There is also an important constitutional issue at stake. The Human Rights Act is fundamental to Welsh democracy; legislation passed in the Senedd must be compatible with the Act, so any action or change must have the agreement of all of the UK’s national legislatures.”

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The UK Government say that the proposed new legislation aims to strike a proper balance between individuals’ rights, personal responsibility and the wider public interest. This would be achieved while retaining the UK’s commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

They add that the proposed measures will restore Parliament’s role as the ultimate decision-maker on laws impacting the UK population, allowing more scope to decide how we interpret rulings from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. This will put an end to us gold plating any decisions made by Strasbourg when we incorporate them into UK law.

The Conservative Government argue that this will restore a ‘common-sense’ approach in vital areas such the UK’s ability to deport foreign criminals, like drug dealers and terrorists, who too often exploit human rights laws to avoid deportation.

They say the proposals achieve this by restricting the rights available to those subject to deportation orders, strengthening the existing legal framework, or limiting the grounds on which a deportation decision can be overturned. This they argue – alongside wider Home Office in its New Plan for Immigration – will reduce pull factors to the UK being exploited by people smugglers facilitating dangerous small boat crossings.

The UK Government estimate that as many as 70 percent of successful human rights challenges are brought by foreign national offenders who cite a right to family life in the first instance when appealing deportation orders. This approach even proved successful in the case of a man who had assaulted his partner and paid no child maintenance to support his family.

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The Government say that the plans will give the Supreme Court more ability to interpret human rights law in a UK context, meaning the Government can enforce rules designed to tackle forced marriages without fear of intervention from Strasbourg.

Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said: “Our plans for a Bill of Rights will strengthen typically British rights like freedom of speech and trial by jury, while preventing abuses of the system and adding a healthy dose of common sense.”

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