By Emma Yemm, Paralegal.

Talk of Brexit has dominated the news but the manifesto promise of repealing the Human Rights Act seems to have been placed on the back burner. There had been discussions about replacing the Act with a British Bill of Rights, but what effect would that have on our rights and will it provide greater protection for the people of the UK?

The Act Itself

The Human Rights Act 1998 was enacted to incorporate the European Convention of Human Rights into UK legislation to ensure UK citizens could have a remedy to a breach of rights on domestic soil at a quicker rate and with less expense. However since the mid 2000’s the act has been under much scrutiny and criticism in British media with focus being placed on there being “too much” protection for foreign criminals and thus costing the taxpayer thousands.

Whilst the act has protected the rights of some unsavoury characters, it has also protected the rights of the most vulnerableand those most at risk of discrimination. For example, the case of Ms C highlighted the need for “choice, independence, autonomy and dignity” for disabled people in the provision of health care services after the trust informed her that she would no longer be guaranteed female nurses to tend to her intimate care needs. And the case of Mr Mendoza allowed for same sex couples to succeed in tenancies and for the Rent Act provisions to be read to prevent further discrimination.

The Future

However in the 2015 election manifesto, The Conservatives made a formal proposal to change the way our rights are covered and to introduce a Bill of Rights that is specifically designed to fit British needs and traditions. It is aimed to allow judges to apply a “margin of appreciation” to take account of British culture and history and recover their sovereignty.  But how and when this pledge will be fulfilled is still unclear.

The Bill is expected to cover wider economic, social and environmental rights as well as a possibility of introducing specific duties or responsibilities that would sit alongside our rights that are already covered. It is unlikely the UK will leave the European Convention of Human Rights but whilst this is considered a positive, by repealing the Act, it is likely the already restrictive access to our courts by Judicial Review will also be repealed and once again seeking a remedy from a breach may once again become costly and time consuming.

And whilst remaining a party to the European Convention, the human rights of those unsavoury characters that appear to be used to dismiss our Human Rights Act will still be safeguarded. The Bill of Rights therefore has a risk of being designed as a tool of convenience for our government and negatively impacting on the UK’s long standing reputation of advocating human rights.

The End?

Conversation about our Human Rights remains generalised and arguments to repeal the Act still remains weak. The effect of Brexit is yet to surface on the current Act and Theresa May has expressed her want to delay any constructive debate surrounding the topic. But with sceptics still expressing their unease with the Human Rights Act and the desire from politicians to reduce the implication of the European Convention of Human Rights, the future of our Human Rights Act still remains misty and uncertain.

1. R (C) v Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust [2004]

2. Ghaidan v Godin Mendoza [2004]