Consequences ‘dire’ if Human Rights Act ditched, more than 50 groups warn

Tearing up the Human Rights Act would have “dire consequences” including removing obligations to properly address violence against women and girls and destabilising peace in Northern Ireland, more than 50 organisations have warned.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, Amnesty, Liberty, the British Institute of Human Rights and others have spelled out the “significant implications” of repealing the act, which is expected to be announced in the Queen’s speech on Tuesday, asking for an urgent meeting to discuss the plans.

Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s chief executive, said: “Tearing up the Human Rights Act will unleash a Pandora’s box of dire consequences for the UK and we desperately urge the prime minister to reconsider.

“Not only will repealing the Human Rights Act damage the UK’s international reputation, but it will also undermine the global system of rights and protections and our ability to hold other countries to account, just at a time when we have never needed those protections more.”

The signatories, who also include Stonewall, Friends of the Earth, End Violence Against Women Coalition and Freedom from Torture, express concern that the prime minister intends to remove obligations to protect certain rights. As an example of how female victims of violence have been able to rely on those obligations, they cite the successful judicial review brought under the act by two early victims of the serial sexual attacker John Worboys against the police for its failure to properly investigate the black-cab driver, who subsequently went on to assault scores more women.

The letter says that given that the incorporation of the European convention of human rights (ECHR), achieved through the Human Rights Act, was an explicit commitment of the Good Friday agreement, amending the act risks breaching the peace deal in Northern Ireland. It would also require a review of the delicately balanced peace settlement on which it would be difficult to achieve consensus, it adds.

Deshmukh said: “The Human Rights Act is the most significant piece of rights legislation in the UK and it plays an absolutely vital role in ensuring stability, justice and protection at home and abroad. This is no time to replace it with a watered-down substitute.”

The letter, shared with the Guardian, says repealing the act would have many “far-reaching and very real consequences”. By claiming that the European court of human rights is going beyond its legitimate role and that parliament requires a “democratic shield” against adverse judgments in Strasbourg, the UK is following in the footsteps of countries with authoritarian leaders such as Russia, Hungary and Poland, it says.

The signatories write: “If the UK is serious about defending human rights and international law, it cannot be taking steps at home that undermine the most important international human rights mechanism in its region.”

A government spokesperson said: “Our proposals will strengthen quintessentially British human rights, such as freedom of expression, while staying a party to the ECHR. They will also prevent abuses of the system, adding a healthy dose of common sense and restore parliament’s rightful role as the ultimate decision-maker on laws impacting the UK population.”

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