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Britain’s Bill of Rights concerns UN experts
Dominic Raab

23 Aug 2022 / human rights Print

Britain’s Bill of Rights concerns UN experts

Britain’s lord chancellor Dominic Raab (pictured) has rejected criticisms of a proposed Bill of Rights from seven United Nations human-rights experts, saying that they are based on a “flawed understanding”.

The bill is due to have its second reading in the House of Commons next month.

The Law Society Gazette of England and Wales reports that the letter has been written by special rapporteurs to the UN high commissioner for human rights, on topics ranging from judicial independence to arbitrary executions and human trafficking.

Bill introduces ‘originalism’

The letter says that the Bill of Rights as published would rebalance “in a concerning manner’ the relationship between the courts, the European Court of Human Rights, and parliament.

“In particular [the bill] would fundamentally change the role and independence of UK courts by establishing a list of considerations and restrictions that UK courts must apply when adjudicating and interpreting the rights established in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR),” the seven-page letter states.

Among the criticisms, according to the Gazette, are that the bill introduces a form of 'originalism' into interpretations of the ECHR, and that it restrains the ability of the courts to impose positive human-rights obligations on public authorities.

Originalism is the belief that a legal text should be interpreted in the way in which it was intended when it became law.

Meanwhile, a measure giving “great weight” to the importance of free speech could “weaken judicial independence”, and “undermine the principle that all rights are indivisible and interdependent”.

International undertakings

The bill’s proposed ‘permission stage’ for human-rights proceedings “limits the normal and well-established gatekeeping role and function of UK courts”, the letter states.

The rapporteurs also express concern that the bill may impinge on the right to equality before the court “by stipulating provisions that apply only to certain groups – namely persons serving custodial sentences, and foreign criminals subject to deportation proceedings”.

The letter asks the British government to explain how the proposed legislation complies with its international human-rights undertakings, especially its obligations under the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

In a provisional response, Raab said: “We don’t accept these criticisms, which rest on a flawed understanding of the UK tradition of liberty, the importance of a clearer separation of powers, and the proper role of elected members of parliament in determining any expansion in the scope of rights. We will be responding robustly in due course.”

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland