Human Rights Act evaluate ‘should not result in weakening of disabled individuals’s rights’ – Incapacity Information Service
A human rights law review announced this week by the government must not be used as an opportunity to water down its protection, disabled human rights experts have warned.
Although the government said this week that the review concerned the “structural framework” of the law rather than the rights themselves, there are still concerns that it could lead to those rights being weakened.
There are also concerns about whether disabled people and their user-led organizations are being properly consulted on the review after the Department of Justice (MoJ), which will oversee the review’s secretariat, has notified the Disability News Service (DNS) that it has not has happened to provide information on any public consultations.
The review of the Independent Human Rights Act is expected to be published as early as next summer.
Its duties include checking that the law “strikes the right balance between the roles of the courts, government and parliament”.
It also examines whether the current approach “runs the risk of domestic courts being inappropriately concerned with [government] Politics”.
The Human Rights Act (HRA) incorporates the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights into British national law and came into force in October 2000.
One of the many rights in the law that have been used to protect people with disabilities is the right to life; freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment; and protection from discrimination in relation to the other rights contained in the law.
Four years ago, an earlier government attack on the law caused outrage after it announced plans to replace it with a new UK Bill of Rights.
A former MoJ spokesman said, “Make no mistake, the human rights law will be repealed and replaced by a law that protects our basic human rights, but also prevents their abuse and restores common sense to the system.”
These plans were later dropped.
The government’s new approach seems less confrontational and less threatening to the law itself, but it still causes concern among human rights experts and activists.
Mike Smith (pictured right), former EHRC disability officer and now executive director of the real disability organization in east London, told DNS: “It’s okay to review the effectiveness of human rights law, but it’s important to not to use this as an opportunity to water it down just because the government disliked some of the decisions made by the courts.
“They just applied the law that protects the human rights of individuals from bad choices made by others. Rights are hard-won and easily lost. “
He added: “When I was at the EHRC, we often used human rights law to ensure that disabled people get a fair outcome, especially when they have not been ‘discriminated’ under the 2010 Equality Act.”
He hoped the review would also look at how the law could be strengthened.
This could include incorporating the rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) into a reformed human rights law, in particular as a study by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities classified as “serious” has been and systemic violations’ by the UK Government of the Convention.
Smith called for the review to “properly consult and inform about the views of disabled people and reflect their ability to achieve the rights of non-disabled people in everyday life”.
Svetlana Kotova (pictured, center), head of campaigns and justice at Inclusion London, said the review “risks the possibility of undermining the already limited legal protection of disabled people”.
She said, “The HRA has helped disabled people challenge blanket social welfare guidelines, discriminatory welfare rules, some injustices related to mental health, and laws on mental performance.”
She said the law also allows some control over government decisions.
She said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the mistakes that can be made if the government is not adequately challenged.
“We urge that all reviews and possible subsequent reforms fully protect the HRA and facilitate its enforcement.
“The dignity and safety of disabled people during and after this global health crisis must be guaranteed.”
Like Smith, Inclusion London urged the government to expand the rights protected by incorporating the UNCRPD into British law, and urged the Review Board to consult with disabled people and data protection officers.
However, the MoJ informed DNS that there is currently no information on a possible public consultation of the panel.
When asked about the review’s plans to consult disabled people and their user-led organizations, a spokesman for the MoJ said it was up to the panel to decide “how and when and with whom to consult”.
She said, “You will consider the best way to conduct this review. How they consult with people will be part of it. You have to decide how to do it. “
The concerns emerged when more than 100 groups from across the UK – including Inclusion London, Disability Wales and the National Survivor User Network – signed an open letter to the Prime Minister and other UK political leaders coordinated by the British Institute of Human Rights defending it the human rights law.
The letter published today (Thursday) on Human Rights Day highlights the COVID-19 emergency and warns: “Human rights must not be an afterthought in times of crisis. Human rights emerged from disaster and must guide the response and recovery from Covid-19. “
And it adds, “Today we stand together, proud of our human rights standards in the UK, but concerned that political rhetoric is turning back to questioning our laws, with growing concerns that people’s ability to be accountable is being diminished . “
The HRA Review Board of eight legal entities and academics consists of the Chairman, Sir Peter Gross, a retired Lord Justice, and the Baroness [Nuala] O’Loan, who conducted a human rights inquiry for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in 2009.
An EHRC spokesman said in a statement: “Human rights law protects the fundamental rights and freedoms of everyone in the UK.
“Any review should ensure that protection is effective, reinforced where possible, not undermined, and generally understood and respected.”
Justice Minister Robert Buckland (pictured left) said: “Human rights are ingrained in our constitution and Britain has a proud tradition of upholding and promoting them at home and abroad.
“After 20 years of operation, it is time to check whether the human rights law is still working effectively.”
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