Review of Human Rights Act ‘unnecessary’ former Supreme Court President tells Committee

Legal experts have told the Joint Committee on Human Rights that Johnson's review of the Act will not improve UK law.

5 Feb 2021| News

Baronness Hale, the recently retired former President of the UK Supreme Court told the House of Commons’ Joint Committee on Human Rights on Wednesday (03 February 2021) that there are no problems with the law that the government’s review of the Human Rights Act (HRA) could seek to fix.

In December, it was announced that an independent panel had been asked to consider whether there was room for reform of the HRA, with particular focus on “whether domestic courts are being unduly drawn into areas of policy”.

The answer to that question is no, Baroness Hale suggested, saying: “I don’t think that the Human Rights Act causes a problem for Parliament because it is very carefully crafted … to ensure that Parliament remains supreme and can take whatever action it deems fit – including doing nothing at all – even if the courts have said that a particular piece of legislation is incompatible with the convention rights.”

“I don’t think there’s a problem and I don’t think there’s any need to fix it,” she said. adding: “I cannot myself think of a fix that could make things better as opposed to potentially making things worse.”

Baronness Hale pointed out that before the HRA embedded the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, citizens and residents of the UK were forced to take their cases to Strasbourg “in order to get a remedy years after the event and not a very effective one”.

“The Human Rights Act brought rights home in the sense that it enabled UK citizens and residents to bring cases alleging that their human rights had been violated in the courts of the United Kingdom and get a remedy there if they had been,” she said.

In an earlier evidence session on Wednesday 27 January 2021, former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, who has previously been outspoken on his concern over the current administration’s intentions towards human rights, said the impact of the HRA has been “entirely beneficial”.

“I had four years and a few months as Attorney-General. Did I ever feel that government was being rendered ineffective by Human Rights Act claims? No, I did not,” he said.

While he said there had been times politicians disagreed with the Courts or felt they were intruding upon policymaking decisions, he said this should not be seen as “adversarial” but rather as an important part of ensuring fair governance in a democratic society.

“A bit more maturity at a political level might help the Executive and Ministers to accept some of these judgments, rather than just seeing them as another problem because there will be an adverse headline in a newspaper the following morning.”