Skip to main content

Human Rights Act Review: Do not risk UK’s constitutional settlement and enforcement of rights by amending Act, urge MPs and Peers

8 July 2021

Amending the Human Rights Act could constitute a risk to the UK’s constitutional settlement and to the enforcement of our human rights, warns the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

The positive impact of the Act, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, should be welcomed and protected, say MPs and peers in a new report from the Joint Committee: The Government’s Independent Review of the Human Rights Act. 

Prompted by the Government’s Independent Review into the Human Rights Act 1998, the Committee has produced a report setting out their views on the key topics. The report considers the terms of reference set for the independent review and concludes that there is no case for amending the Act.  

As a result of the Human Rights Act, human rights cases are now heard first by UK judges in UK courts. Cases are heard sooner; court action is less prohibitively costly and UK judges are able to take better account of the UK’s national context.  The report says that as a result, the enforcement and accessibility of human rights in the UK has improved. 

Parliamentary sovereignty is kept intact by the Act as courts cannot overturn primary legislation even if they find it incompatible with ECHR obligations. Public authorities must act compatibly with ECHR rights, embedding human rights in the delivery of public services. The Act is also a central part of the devolution settlement in the UK.  

The Government’s Independent Human Rights Act Review Panel was appointed in January 2021 following the Government’s manifesto commitment to “update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.” It is expected to report later this year. 

The Chair of the Committee, Harriet Harman MP, said:

“Against the background of the pandemic, the human rights and protections afforded by the Human Rights Act have come to the fore. For example, in responding to the pandemic, Ministers have had to respect our rights to a family life, to privacy, to associate with others, to protest and sadly, the right to life itself.

The Government made a manifesto commitment to update the Human Rights Act. Based on the evidence we have heard, we have come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no justification for any changes along the lines mooted.  The Act both respects parliament and makes our courts powerful in enforcing human rights. The Government must not make change which would at one and the same time, make it harder for people to enforce their human rights and expose the government and agencies to more judgments against them in the European Court of Human Rights.”

Further information

Image: Parliamentary copyright