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Human Rights Act threat a ‘power grab’

CAMPAIGNERS have warned of a “giant leap backwards” if the government tears up the Human Rights Act (HRA), after a review of the legislation was confirmed today. 

The government says it wants to see if the 1998 Act, which brings the European Convention of Human Rights under domestic law, is working “effectively” two decades on. 

Former Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross will lead the review. 

The review comes after repeated Tory manifesto pledges to radically alter the legislation — which has held the government and other authorities to account in dozens of high-profile cases, including the Hillsborough disaster. 

Tory ministers claim that the Act is being inappropriately exploited, in particular to stop the deportations of people with criminal convictions. 

However, rights groups have warned that attempts to alter the legislation could be a “power-grabbing move from a government that doesn’t like limits on its powers or judges who tell them when they break the law.”

Responding to the confirmation of the review, Amnesty UK director Kate Allen said: “Tearing up the Human Rights Act would be a giant leap backwards. It would be the single biggest reduction in rights in the history of the UK.

“From Hillsborough to Grenfell, to the appalling mishandling of the recent Covid crisis in care homes, we have never so badly needed a means to hold the government to account, and we know that the Human Rights Act does that extremely effectively.”

After 27 years of fighting for justice, the Hillsborough families were able to use the Act to uncover the truth about how their loved ones died. The 1989 disaster saw 96 people killed in a crush at Sheffield’s Hillsborough stadium. The Act enabled the families to eventually secure a full inquest into the disaster, which found that mistakes by the police had led to their relatives’ deaths. 

Ms Allen said: “It took ordinary people a very long time to win these rights and we mustn’t let politicians take them away with the stroke of a pen.”

Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at Liberty, said the laws “must be protected for the good of our democracy,” adding: “For years, our laws and legal processes have made sure that governments and public bodies can be challenged when they make bad decisions.

“The plans announced today and over the past six months are focused on limiting our ability to do this.”

The government claims that Britain will “remain committed to the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said: “Human rights are deeply rooted in our constitution and the UK has a proud tradition of upholding and promoting them at home and abroad.

“After 20 years of operation, the time is right to consider whether the Human Rights Act is still working effectively.”

The review will examine the relationship between domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights and the impact of the HRA on the relationship between the judiciary, executive and Parliament, and whether “domestic courts are being unduly drawn into areas of policy.”

It will also look at the way the Act applies outside Britain. 

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said it was “bonkers” that the government is “prioritising launching an attack on human rights in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There is no need for a review into the rights and freedoms that underpin our democracy and all of us enjoy.”

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