Human Rights Act Reform

Most people are familiar with the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). Often a person who may feel wronged legally may ask the question “what about my human rights?” without fully understanding what rights they have, and how these rights work.  

The HRA applies to everyone in the UK and stems from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It is important to note that the UK assisted in writing the rights when they first came into creation in 1950. There are 16 rights in total, and they include the following: 

  • Right to life (Article 2) 
  • Right not to be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way (Article 3) 
  • Right to a fair trial (Article 6) 
  • Right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence (Article 8) 
  • Right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion (Article 9) 
  • Right to freedom of assembly and association (Article 11) 


In December 2020 the Independent Human Rights Act Review (IHRAR) was set up to prepare a report reviewing the HRA and how it works today. The IHRAR was asked specifically to investigate the relationship between the domestic courts here in the UK and the European Court of Human Rights, and the impact the HRA has had on the relationship between the Judiciary, the Government and Parliament. 

Whilst the independent panel compiled their report, the Government announced plans on 14 December 2021 to overhaul the HRA to “curtail abuses of the system”. They stated they were reacting to the IHRAR report, as quoted within the consultation, however the consensus seems to be that they are taking a bit further than any of the findings within the report. Sir Peter Gross QC, who chaired the IHRAR recently commented that the Government consultation was not a reflection of the IHRAR report. The IHRAR has stated that a lot of the submissions it received through roundtable meetings were in strong support of the HRA.  

So, what is the Government proposing?  

The main takeaway is that the Government proposes to replace the HRA with a modern Bill of Rights. It has stated that the rights listed under schedule 1 of the HRA will remain and confirms it believes them to be a common-sense list of rights, however “the key problems have arisen from the way in which those rights have been applied in practice, at both the Strasbourg and domestic levels.” They want to reduce the reliance on Strasbourg case law focus on bringing the final say back to the UK Supreme Court.  

The consultation paper has stated some rights should remain unchanged, but there does appear to be some consideration into the extent that some of the rights are applied in domestic law. In relation to Article 8, the consultation paper quotes the case of Manchester City Council v Pinnock and others, stating the “Court overrode Parliament’s intention, as set out in the Housing Act 1996, that the court must make an order for possession unless the procedures had not been followed. This increased the uncertainty around the eviction process for local authorities seeking to remove anti-social tenants in England and Wales.” And further states that the “courts have expanded the scope of human rights from protecting individuals to prescribing how public services must be delivered, with significant operational and financial implications”. 

The aim of the Bill of Rights seems to be linked with keeping a “British Identity”, to keep the final decision within the UK rather than with the European Court of Human Right. It also looks to add additional checks before any case is brought before Court, this has been referred to as the “permission stage”, to ensure that it is suitable to be heard and that any decision of that case would not adversely affect other people and the right to a jury, and to give those not considered British less protection. Apart from that there doesn’t seem to be much substance in the changes. The Human Rights Act does work, there of course as with any legislation be a handful of cases we can pluck from obscurity to show that it is “failing” but ultimately nothing too radical is actually being proposed by the Government.  

What’s next? 

The law has not changed yet, this is still in the consultation stage. Specific questions have been raised by the Government within its paper. Organisations such as Amnesty encouraged people to take part in the response to the 26 questions proposed by the Government.  

We will keep you updated once all the responses have been submitted and what happens next.