In June 2022, the British Bill of Rights entered the House of Commons and is currently in its second reading. The Bill, which is sponsored by the current secretary of state for justice, Dominic Raab, will repeal and replace the Human Rights Act 1998 and aims to clarify and re-balance the relationship between UK courts, the European Court of Human Rights, and Parliament if it passes. Many observers, including the Law Society, believe that the new Bill of Rights will do significant harm to the rule of law and jeopardise human rights. If enacted, the Bill may have serious implications for immigrants to the UK, including those whose human rights have been violated. Here we will take a closer look at the possible impact of the Bill of Rights Bill 2022 if it passes through parliament and why the role of immigration experts will become increasingly important in protecting the rights of immigrants who are victims of human rights violations, including to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
What does the Bill of Rights do and not do?
The Bill of Rights 2022 aims to repeal and replace the existing Human Rights Act 1998 and will, among other changes:
- Require claimants to get permission before bringing a human rights claim – they will need to prove that they are (or would be) a victim of the act (or proposed act) and they have suffered (or would suffer) a significant disadvantage
- Set a higher threshold for challenges to deportations for foreign nationals who have committed offences
- Remove the duty on courts to consider the interpretation of the European Court on Human Rights (ECtHR)
- Require courts to give greater weight to the views of parliament when balancing rights issues
- Prevent human rights claims that arise from overseas military operations
The Bill does not aim to alter the rights contained within the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and their enforceability in UK courts, including the right to life, prohibition of torture, slavery and forced labour, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, no punishment without law, and the right to respect for private and family life.
The new Bill will also not remove the UK as a member of the ECHR, and its obligations and public authorities must continue to act in accordance with human rights.
Why is the Law Society concerned about the new Bill of Rights?
The Law Society is understandably concerned that the Bill of Rights 2022 will cause harm to those who need human rights protection. It argues that even the government’s own appointed panel in the Independent Human Rights Act Review confirmed the existing Human Rights Act works well overall, and there is no need for widespread reform. They also point out that 80-90% of respondents to the government’s consultation on the Bill rejected its reforms. They believe that, if introduced, the Bill will:
- Lower the level of protection given to human rights.
- Weaken the ability to enforce human rights through the courts to hold the state accountable for human rights violations.
- Make it more difficult to access the courts and limits the protection they can provide to someone whose rights have been violated.
- Restrict and even roll back elements of rights across the board and reduces rights for certain categories of people.
What will the Bill mean for immigrants to the UK?
It remains to be seen how the new Bill may truly impact immigration. As Freemovement.org explain, the Bill aims to “limit the scope of judges to apply human rights law in certain ways”. Their assessment is that when it comes to deportation and private and family life, the Bill contains clauses which are very limited in scope but may simply pave the way for broader changes in the future that breach Article 8 of the ECHR. They also consider that the Bill contains a great deal of posturing, “tough talk”, and is “inelegantly drafted”. That said, it may represent the start of a further diverging of the UK’s legal system from human rights laws with serious implications for foreign nationals who need protection in the UK (e.g. victims of trafficking). For now, as Freemovement conclude, “the fact is that the United Kingdom remains a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights. The United Kingdom continues to be bound by those obligations”.
The Bill may make it harder to bring human rights claims in the UK. The requirement to prove human rights breaches to gain permission to bring a claim and the raising of thresholds for deportations means that the quality of evidence presented to the courts will become increasingly pivotal in achieving a successful outcome. Expert immigration witnesses understand how to gather the evidence necessary to prove human rights breaches and prepare expert witness reports that will explain in detail the damage caused and how this will impact the applicant and their immediate family in the future.