The public are right to be worried about the future of their human rights – just look at the consultation process
Marc Bloomfield
Description: Liberty
On 8 March 2022, the government’s 12-week consultation on its overhaul of the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) closed. Well, sort of.
For 11 weeks and six days of that time, there was no easy-read version of the consultation document, and no audio version; in fact, nothing but a slightly simplified text-only document published less than two weeks before the deadline. Finally, after significant pressure including a letter to the justice secretary, Dominic Raab, from Liberty and 140 human rights and disability rights groups, the government published accessible materials and provided a six-week extension for those who would use them to respond to the consultation. This has still effectively only given many disabled people half the time that everybody else had to respond.
There was absolutely no reason for this consultation to be launched without the appropriate materials in place to ensure that everybody had the same ability to respond. The willing failure to make this an inclusive process should be of no surprise to anyone who is familiar with either the government’s treatment of disabled people in recent years or its broader programme of undermining accountability. The HRA has been vital for disabled people in its two decades in force. In its determination to undermine the former, the government has shown it does not care about the views of the latter.
This follows the wider trend of the government treating any opposing thoughts on human rights reforms as an irrelevance. The 570-page report, The Independent Human Rights Act Review (CP 586, December 2021), which took more than nine months to complete, was dismissed almost as soon as it was published. The government is still to respond to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ own report, The government’s Independent Review of the Human Rights Act. Third report of session 2021–22 (HC 89/HL Paper 31, 8 July 2021), which found there was ‘no case’ for an overhaul.
It is perhaps not a shock, then, that Liberty’s new independent polling shows that almost half of the public (45 per cent) are concerned about weakening human rights. This is despite the fact that just two in five people had heard about the plans – which have largely been mooted and launched behind newspaper paywalls, away from public scrutiny. If more people were aware, they’d be outraged.
These changes will have huge consequences, both foreseen and unforeseen, on our human rights and our ability to hold public authorities to account. Take, for example, the proposals to undermine positive obligations to treat people with dignity and humanity. These affect us all, but for disabled people, who tend to be the biggest users of public services, this will be particularly damaging. Without the invocation of the HRA, we wouldn’t have seen changes to pension payments for disabled people, or the protection of the rights of children detained in young offender institutions.
It is very clear that these plans to overhaul the HRA are a power grab by government. It is changing the rules so that it always wins. And in doing so, it is the public who will lose out. Liberty and other groups will be pushing back against these changes, and we hope you will join us in doing so.

About the author(s)

Description: Charlie Whelton - author
Charlie Whelton is a policy and campaigns officer at Liberty.