EHRC calls on government to protect and strengthen human rights

Lorna McGregor

A greater effort is needed to protect Britain’s position as a global leader in human rights as the development of a new British Bill of Rights, a rise in hate crime in recent years and changes to social security provide an uncertain future for society’s most vulnerable and marginalised, according to human rights chiefs.

The warning follows the publication of a report to the United Nations, where the Equality and Human Rights Commission gives a “worrying assessment” of human rights protections across Britain.

After carrying out an analysis of available data, the commission has outlined 12 priority areas where more work needs to be done. These range from the most essential everyday worries around equal access to healthcare and a proper education, to better protection for child migrants when they come to Britain.

The report acknowledges important progress made in some areas. The UK government’s Modern Slavery Act and the Scottish government’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act have “done much” to tackle the spread of sexual exploitation and forced labour. A reduction in the use of stop and search in England and Wales is another area “for cautious optimism”. However, a black person is still five times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person, the EHRC said.

The report calls on the UK government, along with the Scottish and Welsh governments where issues are devolved, to immediately implement 30 recommendations, which can help address some of these complex issues. Important actions include:

  • ensuring that a new British Bill of Rights does not weaken the legal protections people currently enjoy through the Human Rights Act
  • using new research to tackle hate crime and encourage the police and the courts to work together to stop it
  • carrying out detailed analysis of spending decisions to look at the overall impact on groups such as disabled people and children
  • ensuring that all unaccompanied and separated children entering the UK are assigned an independent guardian to help protect their interests
  • setting a time limit of 28 days for immigration detention and put an end to the detention of pregnant women
  • ensuring that in the youth justice system restraint is only used as a last resort, to prevent injuries and not used deliberately to inflict pain
  • The report has been produced as part of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The UPR places a country’s human rights record under the international microscope every five years. The UK government is due to be examined next spring and the commission’s report will be used to inform the process.
  • Commissioner Lorna McGregor said: “These are uncertain times and we find ourselves at a crossroads, with decisions taken now deciding if we will still be seen as a global leader in human rights in decades to come.

    “This report shows a worrying lack of progress, with society’s most vulnerable and marginalised in danger of being left behind.

    “Our report is solutions-focused and we have made 30 recommendations that we hope the UN will accept and all governments in the UK will act on.”

    Stephen Bowen, director of the British Institute of Human Rights, said: “The Institute’s report shows that over the past four years little progress has been made to fulfil the United Nations’ previous recommendations to the United Kingdom.

    “It is disappointing to see that human rights issues, such as ensuring the right to an adequate standard of living and access to justice, have become more prevalent.

    “The voice of civil society is clear – repealing the Human Rights Act stands only to make these matters worse, not better. We hope the government will move swiftly to address these concerns, including dropping their plans to scrap the Human Rights Act.”

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