I’ll no doubt be writing a fair amount in the coming months about the Human Rights Act and the Government’s plans to abolish it. It’s important. Two of the rights in the Act are fundamental to family law… the right to family life, and the right to a fair hearing. The Custody Minefield was created to give the ordinary man or woman a chance to find fairness when dealing with the courts, judiciary, social services and CAFCASS. Our support for the Human Rights Act should come as no surprise. Without it, the world is a scarier place.
I’m aware that we’re promised a Bill Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, but imagine (as most do), this will be a significantly watered down and limited version of what went before. The Conservatives have suggested so, and Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Justice, has promised a draft bill within 100 days. Last year we saw attempts by his predecessor to limit judicial review, which was thankfully defeated in the House of Lords. Judicial review allows ordinary people to challenge monolithic Government departments when they act unlawfully. It’s an irritant to the Government, as is the Human Rights Act, which is next on their radar.
The abolition of the Human Rights Act is not inevitable. I think it quite possible the House of Lords will vote against it. The Conservatives then have the option of trying to force through their unadulterated reforms via the Parliament Act (if the Lords refuse play ball). Why do I think the Lords might oppose the changes? I see a replay of the Government’s attempts to limit judicial review, and the Lords not falling for ‘spin’. I also suspect that, in the Lords, retired judges and members of the legal profession may consider the proposals are more to do with limiting judicial discretion on human rights in the UK courts, than anything to do with Strasbourg and the EU interfering with our policies. The point of the Human Rights Act was to allow British citizens to have human rights violations heard by the UK courts, rather than having to apply to Strasbourg and the European Court of Human Rights. It removed a large barrier to normal people receiving justice. It removed expense and time delays.
On the matter of whether the Conservatives can win a vote in Parliament, that, to some degree, might be influenced by public opinion. Only a handful of Conservative MPs need to rebel for proposals to fail. To this end, it’s important for people to become involved, write to their MP, and sign online petitions opposed to the reforms.
A right to family life and a right to a fair hearing (to name but two) are essential in family law. They’re your rights. Don’t let them be watered down, or given up. One day you’ll need them, if you haven’t already.
Collectively, at the time of posting this article, 300,000 people had signed the petitions below. Click on the banners to join them. Add your voice. Protect your rights.