Human rights lawyers are on a mission to make the public aware of the potential implications of the Independent Human Rights Act Review.
Retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross is leading the promised review of the 20-year-old act, which will report in the summer. The review’s call for evidence was the subject of a Young Legal Aid Lawyers event this week.
Highlighting the importance of public legal education, Bristol Law Centre solicitor Barbara Likulunga told the event that there was a lack of understanding on how much the Human Rights Act affects people on the ground.
‘The law in itself is so complicated, it’s not accessible… When we talk to people, it’s our job to translate it. But when people come through the door and hear the terminology we use, it probably goes over their head,’ she said.
Rook Irwin Sweeney solicitor Alice Cullingworth suggested talking about different areas of law to help with public perception. ‘Human rights touches on a number of different areas. It would help with public perception to focus on areas such as community care, where the Human Rights Act has made a real difference,’ she said.
She highlighted a ‘success story’ in the Upper Tribunal, concerning children with special educational needs and school exclusions. ‘The court found that regulations under the Equality Act were incompatible with [human rights laws] on the basis that schools cannot exclude children with special educational needs when their behaviour is linked to their disability without the usual protections that any other child would benefit from,' she said.
Liberty solicitor Katy Watts said lawyers need to go for a ‘full-throated defence of human rights’ in submissions to the call for evidence.
The civil liberties group has drafted a public letter to the review and is urging members of the public who have used the Human Rights Act to sign it. Liberty's letter says: ‘The government has asked a group of lawyers and academics to review our human rights laws in the UK. At Liberty, we are very concerned that this review could mean that the government makes it harder for people to stand up to power.’
The call for evidence closes on 3 March. Unlike the Independent Review of Administrative Law, the Independent Human Rights Act Review is publishing responses. Three individual submissions were published on the government's website yesterday.