Dunja Mijatović, the council’s commissioner for human rights, said on Monday that replacing the act with a British bill of rights would send the “wrong signal”.
The Human Rights Act (HRA) directly incorporated into domestic law rights set out in the European convention on human rights (ECHR), which was ratified by all members of the Council of Europe, including the UK.
Mijatović, who concluded a five-day visit to the UK earlier this month, which included a meeting with the deputy prime minister and lord chancellor, Dominic Raab, said: “It is worrying that the proposed legal reforms might weaken human rights protections at this pivotal moment for the UK, and it sends the wrong signal beyond the country’s borders at a time when human rights are under pressure throughout Europe.”
While Raab has championed the British bill of rights as a restatement of sovereignty by reducing the influence of the European court of human rights, Mijatović expressed concern that it would widen the gap between the protection of ECHR rights by UK courts and the case law of the European court.
She added that the changes had been proposed in a wider context of recent laws and policies already heavily affect human rights in specific areas, such as the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, or on specific groups, such as refugees and asylum seekers or Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
Mijatović also expressed concern about the impact of the repeal of the HRA on the peace settlement in Northern Ireland, given that incorporation of the ECHR was an explicit commitment of the Good Friday agreement.
“It is crucial that this foundation is not undermined as a result of the proposed human rights reforms,” she said.
The Council of Europe, which oversees the European court of human rights and is the continent’s leading human rights organisation, has already rebuked the UK over a plan to grant conditional immunity to people accused of murder and other offences through the Northern Ireland Troubles (legacy and reconciliation) bill.
Mijatović also said the high number of children living in, or at risk of, poverty in the UK was “a serious human rights problem” and criticised public discourse relating to transgender people in the UK. “Contrary to what some are trying to suggest, protecting women’s rights and the rights of trans people is not a zero-sum game,” she said.
The government has been approached for comment.