September 26 2023

Liberty launches legal action against Home Secretary for breaching constitutional principles

Liberty launches legal action against Home Secretary for breaching constitutional principles

Pic: Patrick Maguire
Red Cell: Patrick Maguire from Proof magazine, issue 4

Human rights organisation Liberty has launched legal action against home secretary Suella Braverman for breaching constitutional principles by signing off on anti-protest legislation arguably beyond her powers. In fact, parliament voted against this same protest restriction earlier in the year. The Home Secretary is believed to have snuck the policy “in through the back door.”

Katy Watts, a lawyer at Liberty, speaks on behalf of the organisation by stating the legislation gives the police force “almost unlimited powers to stop any protest the Government doesn’t agree with,” and needs to be dropped.

The legislation allows police to take action in any protest that creates “more than minor” disruption. Liberty has deemed this language too vague, therefore giving the government power to stop protests based on its own opinion and limit the public’s rights to speak out for what they believe in. Liberty says the way the Home Secretary went about creating this legislation is not only a violation of rights, but unlawful.

On Jan. 30, the government proposed the idea to lower the standards of what is considered “serious disruption” during protests. Parliament then voted this out of the Public Order Act. The Home Secretary has now altered the law, constituting anything causing “minor disruption” to being “serious disruption” and worthy of police action. According to a cross party parliamentary committee, this is the first time the government has turned to secondary legislation to make changes to a law already rejected in primary legislation by parliament.

Liberty sent a pre-action letter to Braverman expressing their thoughts on the legislation. They argue that parliament gives secondary legislation the power to clarify laws, not entirely change them. In doing this, Braverman has interfered with the separation of powers, a constitutional principle. These Serious Disruption Regulations obstruct the sovereignty of parliament.

Liberty also included that the legislation was created illegally as there was not “an even-handed consultation,” which is a legal requirement. Rather, Braverman “pursued a one-sided consultation.” The government intentionally consulted with parties it was confident would agree with the proposal, neglecting groups that would raise concern. This is a violation of the consultation principles created by the government itself, stating that departments must “consider the full range of people, business and voluntary bodies affected by the policy.” The Home Office acknowledged that a large range would be affected by the legislation in an Economic Note that accompanied the Regulations.

‘We’ve launched this legal action to ensure this overreach is checked and that the Government is not allowed to put itself above the law to do whatever it wants,’ said Watts. ‘It’s really important that the Government respects the law and that today’s decision is reversed immediately.’

The House of Lords secondary legislation scrutiny committee reviewed and criticised the legislation in a report dated May 9. They found the draft Explanatory Memorandum to the Regulations did not mention the fact that the legislation failed to be passed in the House of Lords in the Public Order Act of 2023. When an explanation was requested, the Home Office “did not directly respond.”