The Bill of Rights: undermining rights for Black and ethnic minority groups when they most need protection
We are facing a rights crisis for Black and ethnic minority groups. 75% of Black people in the UK do not believe that their human rights are equally protected compared to white people’s. Glaring disparities across education, housing, healthcare, the criminal justice system and labour market continue to threaten these rights and deserve urgent attention from the government.
But proposals contained in the government’s new ‘Modern Bill of Rights’ consultation, its plan to “revise and replace” the Human Rights Act 1998 with a Bill of Rights, could set back the rights of Black and ethnic minority people even further.
There is already an ever-widening gap in access to justice for Black and ethnic minority groups. We know that Black and ethnic minority people make up 71-73% of criminal and civil legal aid cases in England and Wales. The proposed Bill of Rights will add an extra barrier that will isolate Black and ethnic minority people from realising their rights like everyone else.
These proposals include an introduction of a ‘permission stage’ in bringing a human rights case to court. This means that if an ethnic minority person has been discriminated against by their local authority, they would first have to show that they have faced a ‘significant disadvantage’ to bring a case to court.
A permission stage has been explicitly articulated as an attempt to weed out “frivolous” claims by the Lord Chancellor. The notion that any claim that sets out to assert human rights is ‘frivolous’ is something we should contest, and the permission stage will only serve to undermine individuals’ protection from abuses.
Moreover the proposed Bill of Rights will introduce a so-called ‘responsibilities framework’ which would in essence create “different classes” of claimants on the basis of their past behaviour. This proposal would shift the court’s focus from the human rights violations committed by a public authority to examining the life of the person who has experienced those violations. It’s particularly threatening for Black and ethnic minority communities who already experience deeply disproportionate outcomes in the criminal justice system - and are set to suffer most from the introduction of such a framework.
We cannot forget the fundamental role that the Human Rights Act has had in progressing race equality. The Act guarantees that human rights and fundamental freedoms are applied without discrimination. It also provides important protections for asylum seekers and refugees, who are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations.
In May of last year, a landmark judgement challenged the Home Office for charging a Windrush victim’s family from coming to live with her in Britain. This judgement was important in recognising the Home Office’s mistreatment of members of the Windrush generation, and relied on the Human Rights Act to do so. Indeed, the Court ruled that the Home Secretary had breached the claimant's rights to her private and family life (under Article 8) and Article 14 rights to protect from discrimination. We know these rights have had a significant impact on the protections of migrant groups.
The Human Rights Act (HRA) has proved an effective tool for challenging the abuses facing Black communities in our criminal justice system. The charity INQUEST highlighted that the HRA has had an extremely important role for the rights of bereaved families in relation to a death in police custody - in strengthening the coronial process, ensuring greater scrutiny of circumstances surrounding death and strengthening the provisions for legal aid.
Alongside this, according to Parliament’s Committee on Human Rights, Article 5, the right to liberty, is fundamental in protecting the rights of Black people if “stop and search goes beyond the normal cursory stop and search”. Article 5 can also be used in conjunction with Article 14, if stop and search continues to disproportionately impact Black and ethnic minority communities.
Proposals for a Bill of Rights come alongside other legislation that will threaten the rights of Black and ethnic minority groups. Both the Nationality and Borders Bill, described by a human rights organisation as the biggest “legal assault” to international refugee law in the UK, and the Police, Crimes, Sentencing, Courts Bill, which will seriously undermine rights of protest, look set to become law. It is absolutely vital at this moment that Black and ethnic minority groups have their protection from the abuses of government and local authorities.
The proposed Bill of Rights will remove those protections, and must be stopped.
Alba Kapoor is Senior Policy Manager at the Runnymede Trust
Nannette Youssef is Policy Officer at the Runnymede Trust
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