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Response to Ministry of Justice Consultation 'Human Rights Act Reform: A Modern Bill of Rights'

Kamena Dorling

The work of the Helen Bamber Foundation began with the belief that all people must be treated fairly, regardless of where they were born, and, as stated the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Helen Bamber was a British psychotherapist and human rights activist who worked with Holocaust survivors in Germany after the concentration camps were liberated in 1945. She later returned to Britain and continued her work with the most marginalised, including refugees, survivors of genocide, torture and trafficking. In 2005, she created the Helen Bamber Foundation to help survivors of extreme human cruelty and we continue her legacy by doing all we can to support and protect human rights.

For over two decades, the Human Rights Act 1998 has ‘brought home’ the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights by enabling individuals to enforce those rights in the UK. It has significantly advanced the protection of human rights in the UK by allowing those whose rights have been violated to bring cases to the domestic courts and obtain a form of remedy for those violations. It has helped further entrench human rights considerations in decision-making and ensure that systemic failings are investigated and addressed.

The government’s consultation provides a partial and one-sided view of the functioning of human rights protections in the UK, disregarding the positive impact of the Human Rights Act and setting up a division between people who are ‘deserving’ of human rights and those who are not. The suggested proposals to be included in a new ‘Bill of Rights’ would weaken the whole human rights framework by reducing the responsibilities of government and public bodies to uphold people’s human rights; limiting the actions that courts can take in the face of violations; and reducing protections offered to certain groups, including refugees and migrants.

A basic principle of international human rights law is that human rights are universal. That all people are equal before the law has also been part of our common law for centuries. These proposals would undermine that basic principle and have a terrible impact on the people that Asylum Aid and the Helen Bamber Foundation serve – those fleeing persecution and survivors of trafficking, torture and extreme human cruelty. History has shown us that the weakening of protections for certain groups of people, whether based on race, religion, nationality, criminality, or those who have exhibited any ‘poor’ behaviour in the past, has always been the precursor for the restrictions of protections for everyone. If you start eroding the rights of one group, you undermine the system of protection for us all.

As HBF and Asylum Aid we are appalled that the government is seeking to introduce a Bill of Rights that would significantly reduce the protections afforded to certain groups, including refugees and survivors of trafficking. The government’s proposals will not only harm the most marginalised but will undermine the human rights protections available to us all.

As well as responding directly to the consultation as HBF and AA, we also responded as part of the wider anti-trafficking sector.