Lawyers must strengthen their commitment to business and human rights principles to fulfil their professional duties and safeguard the interests of their clients and practices, according to Law Society guidance issued today.
Society president Robert Bourns said promoting business and human rights was ‘central’ to the Society’s work. ‘We have asked solicitors to start by looking within their own firms and businesses to assess their human rights impact… to manage risks and prevent and tackle potential abuse,’ Bourns added.
Solicitors should also ‘look outside their own firms and consider how best to support’ their clients’ human rights compliance.
Justice secretary Liz Truss is committed to scrapping the UK Human Rights Act 1998, and has said it will be replaced with a ‘British Bill of Rights’, a Conservative party manifesto pledge.
But the Society’s guidance is informed by a much wider range of legislation, jurisprudence and developing business practice that would be unchanged by repeal of the HRA. These include the Modern Slavery Act, the Bribery Act, the Companies Act 2006, and the UK’s 2013 endorsement of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), and judgment in the 2016 High Court case Houghton.
Truss is the third justice secretary to pledge a British bill, but there has been no suggestion that the UK’s UNGP action plan would be altered. Today’s Law Society guidance further notes that the UNGPs ‘reinforce the mandatory provisions’ of the SRA Code of Conduct.
The guidance is issued ahead of International Human Rights Day, 10 December, which commemorates the UN General Assembly’s 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.