Dear Justice Secretary,
Pre-Legislative Scrutiny of a Bill of Rights
We write as more than 150 civil society organisations and leaders to share our urgent concern about the Government’s statement of 9 June 2022 that it does not intend to submit its Bill of Rights for pre-legislative scrutiny.
As highlighted by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Justice Committee, the Lords Constitution Committee, and the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the proposals set out in the Bill of Rights are of ‘supreme constitutional significance and have the potential to impact on the rights of individuals for many years to come’. Ministers of the devolved nations have highlighted how the Government’s proposals to replace the Human Rights Act threaten to undermine the devolution settlement.
It is therefore highly disappointing and worrying that the Government has rejected calls from Parliamentary Committees representing both Houses and all major parties to ensure that these measures are subject to the fullest amount of public and parliamentary scrutiny.
Pre-legislative scrutiny of these plans is made ever more important by the divergence between the proposals and the findings of the independent panel established by the Government to review the operation of the Human Rights Act (HRA). The panel, chaired by former Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross, found that the HRA is operating effectively to preserve parliamentary sovereignty and protect individuals’ rights. The Government’s subsequent proposals ignored these findings and pushed vastly beyond the panel’s scope to a position that would be a vast and deeply consequential overhaul of human rights protection in this country.
Proposed legislation of such constitutional importance and with potentially vast-ranging impact on the rights of individuals and their ability to defend those rights requires careful and robust consideration, which can only be achieved if elected members of Parliament and peers in the House of Lords are given the time and space to fully consider its implications.
We urge the Government to respect the principles of the UK’s parliamentary democracy and subject the proposed Bill of Rights to the pre-legislative scrutiny it clearly requires.
For the full list of signatories, please see the PDF version of the letter below.