There were ‘absolutely no justification’ for amending the Human Rights Act and doing so could represent ‘a risk to the UK’s constitutional settlement’, according to peers and MPs in a new report.
The Government’s Independent Human Rights Act Review Panel was appointed in January to deliver on an election manifesto commitment to ‘update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government’. The new report by Joint Committee on Human Rights considers the panel’s remit and concludes that there is ‘no case’ for amending the Act and its ‘positive impact’ should be ‘welcomed and protected’.
‘As a result of the Human Rights Act, human rights cases are now heard first by UK judges in UK courts,’ the committee says. ‘Cases are heard sooner; court action is less prohibitively costly and UK judges are able to take better account of the UK’s national context. The report says that as a result, the enforcement and accessibility of human rights in the UK has improved.’
Parliamentary sovereignty was ‘kept intact’ by the Act as courts cannot overturn primary legislation even if they find it incompatible with ECHR obligations. ‘The Government made a manifesto commitment to update the Human Rights Act. Based on the evidence we have heard, we have come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no justification for any changes along the lines mooted,’ commented the committee chair Harriet Harman MP. ‘The Act both respects parliament and makes our courts powerful in enforcing human rights. The Government must not make change which would at one and the same time, make it harder for people to enforce their human rights and expose the government and agencies to more judgments against them in the European Court of Human Rights.’