by Debora Singer
On Tuesday 14 December, the Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, announced his intention to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights. In doing so, he plans to reduce some rights and make those remaining harder to access. The only good thing is he is adamant that we will stay a party to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Listening to his statement in the House of Commons was very confusing. Some of the issues he was fixing don’t need fixing at all.
For instance he says he will add trial by jury to the Bill of Rights. But we already have trial by jury.
He talks about separating the powers of the court and Parliament, but in doing so he gives more power to Parliament and takes it away from independent judges. This is why Liberty and Amnesty are talking about his plans as a ‘power grab’.
He says he will stop courts altering legislation, but they do not do this anyway. Courts can only declare a law incompatible with the Human Rights Act and it is for Parliament to make the changes needed to make it compatible.
The key case that is directly relevant to the UK’s Jewish community demonstrates this.
When in 2018 the Inner North London Coroner considered each case in chronological order of deaths (the cab rank rule) this conflicted with both Muslim and Jewish law to bury people within 24 hours. The Adath Yisroel Burial Society took the Inner North London Coroner to court claiming this was against the Human Rights Act. The judge agreed, declaring that this policy was unlawful as it was against religious freedom and had to be changed. The national Coroners’ guidance was consequently amended to accommodate Muslim and Jewish religious law so that their burials could be expedited. Other examples, also relevant to our community are using the Human Rights Act to get sufficient care hours, getting disabled people’s housing adapted, couples being able to live in the same care home (see our film Sunrise not Sunset) and same-sex marriage, to name a few.
Dominic Raab speaks of the importance of protecting women affected by domestic violence but that is exactly what the Human Rights Act is already doing. Women have pointed out local authorities’ obligations to protect them from harm, enabling them to get housing and safety.
So overall, there is no need to change the Human Rights Act. And that is important to us in the Jewish community.
From our history of persecution by the state in many countries including Spain, the Middle East, North Africa and western Europe we know why human rights laws are so important. Our namesake, Monsieur René Cassin, drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to set out the fundamental principles by which all human beings should be treated. Ironically, we just celebrated the Declaration’s birthday last Friday. From the creation of the European Convention on Human Rights, drafted by British politicians including Winston Churchill to the Convention being brought into UK law as the Human Rights Act in 1998, Jews have been involved in developing human rights frameworks and benefitting from them.
We see human rights as a reflection of our Jewish values. There is no need to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights.