Out-Law News 1 min. read

UK government avoids 'self-inflicted wound' by abandoning Bill of Rights Bill

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The UK government’s decision to abandon its plan for sweeping reforms to human rights legislation comes as no surprise, according to one legal expert.

Last week, secretary of state for justice Alex Chalk confirmed that the government would not proceed with the Bill of Rights Bill, first introduced to parliament by his predecessor, Dominic Raab, in June 2022. Public law, legislation and government expert David Thorneloe of Pinsent Masons said the decision to drop the Bill had been expected for some time.

He added: 'The Bill of Rights Bill was heavily criticised, so it is no surprise that the government’s decision to drop it has been widely welcomed.”

Thorneloe said provisions in the Bill designed to remove the duty to interpret domestic legislation consistently with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) would have created “significant legal uncertainty” and reopened 20 years of case law for re-litigation.

“As the principal litigator on human rights issues, that would have caused more problems for the government itself than anyone else, so the government has avoided a self-inflicted wound in that regard which it might want to consign to its ‘lessons learned’ folder,” he added.

Another issue with the Bill he highlighted was the “array of procedural obstacles and complications for victims of human rights breaches to overcome”. Thorneloe said: “It was difficult to follow the government’s thinking as to the benefits it perceived in introducing these complications, but this may be the sort of issue that a future government might attempt to address again in the context of any court reform programme, if it is able to articulate some benefits to be gained from some of them.”

Thorneloe added that the government’s “wish list of restrictions” on substantive rights contained in the ECHR, and on the way in which the ECHR can be enforced in British courts, would have set the UK on a “collision course” with other European nations.

“While the Bill has been dropped, the government still has that wish list of restrictions in its back pocket, and we can expect some of those restrictions to reappear in other legislation dealing with particular topics, as we have seen with the Illegal Migration Bill,” he said.

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