Rights consultation delayed
Dominic Raab forced to allow more time for responses
The government’s consultation on reforming the Human Rights Act was meant to have closed this week. As expected, Dominic Raab’s proposals were heavily criticised by organisations that published their responses yesterday:
The Law Society, representing solicitors in England and Wales, did not believe there was a case for the sweeping reforms proposed. It said they would damage the rule of law; prevent access to justice; remove or reduce rights; lead to more challenges being taken to the European court; damage the UK’s international reputation; reduce legal certainty; and increase costs.
The all-party law reform organisation Justice said that many of the proposals would have a significant detrimental impact on rights protection, legal certainty and the cost and length of litigation for all parties. “It is gravely concerning to see proposals which fail to recognise that judicial oversight of human rights exists to protect everyone,” the group’s director added.
According to the human rights group Liberty, the supposed “case for change” in the consultation document is nothing of the sort. “It provides a sensationalist and slanted understanding of the operation of human rights in the UK, disregards the positive impact of the Human Rights Act and sets up a division between people who are deserving of human rights and those who are not,” Liberty’s response said.
None of this will come as a surprise. What was not expected was that the government would be forced to extend its consultation period to 19 April — but only for “those who would be assisted by an easy-read or audio version in order to respond” and for organisations that “solely or greatly” represent their interests.
Liberty takes up the story:
On 24 February 2022, with twelve days left to go of the consultation period, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) finally published an accessible text-only version of the consultation document but did not provide an audio version nor an easy-read version, nor did it grant an extension to submit to the consultation.
On the day before the deadline, on the afternoon of 7 March 2022, the MOJ finally published an easy-read version and belatedly announced that those who require accessible materials will be given until 19 April 2022 to submit to the consultation.
Fundamentally, there was no reason for the consultation to be launched before provision was made that would enable everyone affected to take part in the process.
Were it not for pressure from civil society, including 140 organisations who wrote to the justice secretary calling on the MOJ to extend the deadline for the consultation and more than 200 organisations and individuals writing to the Joint Committee on Human Rights criticising the MOJ for its oversight, the failure of the government to provide this basic standard of accessibility would have effectively blocked disabled people from taking part.
If Raab cannot even hold a 12-week consultation according to well-established rules without running the risk of being judicially reviewed, you do wonder whether he will ever manage to bring about a fundamental reform of the British constitution.
Despite his title of deputy prime minister, he seems to have very little political capital left. When the time comes, I very much doubt that legislation to implement what is widely regarded as an ill-considered and unnecessary reform will ever get off the ground.
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