Home News Queen’s Speech 2015: Plans for repeal of Human Rights Act “on hold”

Queen’s Speech 2015: Plans for repeal of Human Rights Act “on hold”

by Brian Sims
The Queen's Speech formed part of the State Opening of Parliament

The Queen’s Speech formed part of the State Opening of Parliament

The new Conservative Government has seemingly delayed its proposed plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. While many of the Conservative’s General Election Manifesto commitments appeared in the legislative agenda, the Queen’s Speech to Parliament today stated only that ‘proposals’ would be brought forward for a British Bill of Rights. 

Although it duly appears in the Queen’s Speech, there’s no legislation, then – either in full or draft form – on a British Bill of Rights. Instead, ministers will now consult on the pros and cons of potentially replacing the Human Rights Act with a new legal framework of rights and responsibilities.

An Investigatory Powers Bill will revive plans for what many commentators have previously dubbed a ‘Snoopers’ Charter’, giving State bodies wide-ranging new tools to collect and process all communications data. According to the Queen’s Speech: “New legislation will modernise the law on communications data.”

Extremism Bill: Introduction of Banning Orders

The planned Extremism Bill is designed to create new Banning Orders, Extremism Disruption Orders and Closure Orders. Liberty believes this will “curb free speech” under the guise of tackling extremist behaviour.

Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron

The Bill includes measures to tackle the broadcasting of extremist material. The Government is also intent on strengthening Ofcom such that it can take action against channels transmitting extremist content.

This proposed legislation will also put forward the introduction of the aforementioned Banning Orders for those extremist organisations who use so-called ‘hate speech’ in the public domain but whose activities fall some way short of proscription.

New powers allowing police services and local authorities to close down premises used to support extremism are also on the cards while employers will be able to check whether or not an individual in their company is an extremist.

Immigration Bill: the proposals

The Government’s proposed Immigration Bill enshrines plans to criminalise undocumented migrants working in the UK and also to confiscate their earnings. Importantly, the Bill would extend ‘Deport First, Appeal Later’ provisions.

The Immigration Bill is most certainly designed to clamp down on illegal immigration and protect public services. To this end, it will include a new offence of illegal working, with the police service afforded necessary powers enabling the seizure of wages paid to illegal workers as the ‘proceeds of crime’.

Going forward, it would become an offence for businesses and recruitment agencies to hire from abroad without first advertising their vacancies in the UK. Indeed, this replicates a policy which featured heavily in the Labour Party’s General Election Manifesto. In addition, a new enforcement agency will be established in a bid to tackle what Prime Minister David Cameron has termed “the worst cases of exploitation”.

Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty

Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty

Policing and Criminal Justice Bill

Meanwhile, the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill promises to “improve the law” by making local communities “safer” while also “building confidence and enhancing efficiencies” in the criminal justice system.

This Bill includes plans to reform pre-charge bail in England and Wales and ban the use of police cells for the emergency detention of mentally ill people under the Mental Health Act.

There are proposals afoot to reform the Police Federation of England and Wales, plans to extend police-led prosecutions and the potential for overhaul of the police complaints system.

Commenting on the content of today’s Queen’s Speech, Shami Chakrabarti (director of Liberty) stated: “It’s heartening that a Conservative Government committed to scrapping the Human Rights Act has at least paused for thought in its first Queen’s Speech. There’s a long struggle ahead but it must be said that time is the friend of freedom. The more this new Parliament understands the value of the Human Rights Act for all of us in the UK and our reputation in the wider world, the more it’s likely to understand how dangerous it would be to replace human rights with mere citizens’ privileges.”

A Manifesto launched by independent charity Victim Support earlier this year sets out the issues victims and witnesses of crime want to see taken into account in the development of any new legislation and policies. These include the perceived need for the Government to set up a single complaints system for victims of crime who are unhappy with the justice system and making sure that children are treated better in the criminal justice system: two key points that the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill is earmarked to address.

As stated, the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill also proposes to improve the way in which those individuals with mental health issues are treated by the police service. Victim Support wants the Government to make sure reforms in this area include the victims of crime as well as offenders. The organisation’s research has found that people exhibiting mental health problems are many more times likely to be the victim of a crime.

Building blocks for the development of legislation

Victim Support backs the Government’s commitment to increase the rights and entitlements for victims of crime, and will be encouraging policy makers to draw on the organisation’s 40 years’ worth of experience in working with those victims to ensure their voices are the foundation for the development of any new legislation.

In response to the pledges made in the Queen’s Speech, Mark Castle (CEO of Victim Support) said: “Victims are not getting a fair deal from the criminal justice system, despite convictions resting on their willingness to report crime and testify in court. Too often, victims find the justice system unresponsive to their needs, confusing and upsetting.”

Castle continued: “We want to see legislation that addresses eight key issues, including keeping victims better informed about the outcome of their case, ensuring that all victims of rape or abuse can have therapy well before a trial, supporting more child witnesses with trained intermediaries in court and victims not having to wait months or even years to realise court-ordered compensation from their offender.”

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