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Why the UK has Decided to Reform its Decades-Old Human Rights Act

By Lientje Rockstroh

(*written in January 2022 - not all information in the article correlates with the date published*)

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab unveiled plans on Tuesday the 14th December, to revise the UK’s human rights act, which has been in position since 1998. As mentioned previously, this act has been in place for soon to be, (or at least it would have soon been) over 23 years, and has seemingly been working adequately for the United Kingdom and its legislative system during that entire period of time.

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Previously, the 1998 HRA protected rights including: the prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment; protection against slavery and forced labour; the rights to liberty and freedom; a fair trial and no punsishment without law; freedom of thought, religion and belief; respect for privacy and family life and the right to marry; free speech and peaceful protest; no discrimination; protection of property; the right to an education, and the right to free elections. However, due to recent issues that have been caused during several trials because of these laws (issues which will soon be elaborated on), the UK MP’s (formally known as members of parliament) have made the decision to make alterations to this decades old piece of legislation.

From various different points throughout 2022, new laws will be put into place, slowly forming the UK's modernized Bill of Rights. According to the Command Paper (a document that is issued by the UK government and then presented to parliament in particular legal scenarios such as the one currently being discussed), the new laws will create a “ ‘democratic shield’ to preserve parliamentary sovereignty” as it would

‘barricade’ the courts from attempting to alter or differently interpret legislation “contrary to parliament’s clearly expressed democratic will.”

However, the courts aren’t the only parties taking advantage of the previous Acts; it’s been confirmed that some ‘foreign criminals’ have been exploiting human rights claims during trial, (more specifically, have been using Article 8, which is the right to respect family life), to resist deportation. Fortunately, some of the changes being made are not at all being put forward as a result of exploitation or negativity, but are instead being altered in the hopes of making the United Kingdom’s legal system both fairer and stronger. For example, in the past, married couples filing for divorce had to fill out an accusation of blame against their partners. However often there isn’t an ‘accusatory reason’, and instead the couple simply doesn’t want to spend their life together anymore. From the 6th of April 2022, this modern act will be fully put into motion and various divorcing couples have a greater chance to part (primarily) guiltless and on good terms. This could even further ensure that their mental health does not worsen as an after-effect of the divorce.

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Although it is safe to say that the reactions regarding the Human Rights Act changes will definitely be diverse all over the United Kingdom, I personally believe that as these changes were made with the best interests of the country (and of course its people) in mind, and due to the fact that based on what I’ve read the majority of this new legislation will truly benefit the monarchy, that this decision to alter the law was a wholly positive one.

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