Government trying to make itself untouchable says Liberty

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A section of the 10,000-strong march against the Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill demanding the right to protest

NEW research by Liberty shows most people believe that no matter your role, everyone should follow the same rules and that no one should be above the law.

Following months of evidence of consistent rule-breaking at No 10, a poll found that 84% of people agree that no-one, including those in power, should be above the law and 85% believe MPs should follow the rules they set.
The figures come as human rights organisation Liberty raises concerns about government attempts to make itself untouchable.
A raft of legislation currently going through Parliament would make it more difficult for ordinary people to hold those in power to account, while plans to overhaul the Human Rights Act would see crucial legal protections stripped away for many.
The Policing Bill, which was voted on by MPs last week, has been widely condemned as an attempt by ministers to clamp down on protest.
It contains sweeping new powers enabling the police to shut down protests for a variety of reasons, including for being ‘too noisy’. It also contains a ban on static protests.
The measures have been opposed by swathes of parliamentarians including former Prime Minister Theresa May, ex-police chiefs, and over 350 civil society organisations.
Meanwhile, peers last month voted on plans for mandatory voter ID at elections – which critics say will disenfranchise two million people across the UK at a cost of £120 million.
The government is also introducing legislation to weaken the Judicial Review process and planning to overhaul the Human Rights Act – both of which will make it harder for people to challenge the government or public bodies and to defend their rights.
The government’s consultation on changes to the Human Rights Act closed on Tuesday, amid criticism from Liberty and a coalition of disability and human rights groups for failing to include some disabled people in the consultation process.
The groups said the government made it ‘virtually impossible’ for some people to respond, after the government belatedly published an ‘easy read’ version of the document with just 12 days left of the 12-week long consultation process.
Polling by nfpResearch on behalf of Liberty show that many are worried by these moves: almost half of people (45%) are very or extremely concerned about weakening human rights, while 43% say they are very or extremely concerned about plans to criminalise protest.
However, only two in five (41%) have heard about government plans to review the Human Rights Act, and just over a third (36%) have heard about plans to make it harder to challenge government decisions.
Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: ‘We all want to live in a fair society, where the rules apply to all of us and we can hold those in power to account when they get it wrong.
‘But it’s clear that this government is trying to put itself above the law, with changes taking place that most people don’t know about.
‘These are not small changes – they will dramatically alter how the public can hold government accountable for its actions, including when they get things wrong or act unlawfully.
‘These figures show that if the public knew what was happening they would not tolerate this government’s attempts to re-write the rules so that only they can win.
‘The overwhelming majority of people agree that no-one – including those in power – should be above the law, and many are concerned about attempts to criminalise protest and the weakening of human rights.
‘Ministers would do well to heed these concerns, and reverse what were always going to be deeply unpopular moves to erode accountability.’

  • Liberty and a coalition of disability and human rights groups alongside opposition parties, have called out the government for failing to include some disabled people in its Human Rights Act consultation.

The groups said the government made it ‘virtually impossible’ for some people to respond, after the government belatedly published an ‘easy read’ version of the document with just 12 days left of the 12-week long consultation process.
In a letter sent on Monday 28 February, to Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, the group also states that the content of the ‘easy read’ document – which are normally designed to make the complex 123 page consultation more accessible – is ‘insufficient to the point of being insulting’.
The Labour Party, Green Party and Scottish National Party all condemned the government’s failure to support disabled people from participating in the consultation, and criticised the review itself.
The groups also warn that simply publishing a text document and not an audio file excludes those with visual impairments, and the delay in releasing an audio version of the consultation gives people even less time to respond.
The more than 140 signees have called for an extension to the consultation because of the oversight.
The consultation closed on Tuesday 8 March. The letter stated that ‘refusing to extend the deadline is refusing to enable people to take part’.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas called the government’s approach to the rights of disabled people ‘staggering’, adding that ‘Human rights are precious and affect each and every one of us – the deadline needs to be extended so disabled people’s voices can be heard.’
The Labour Party vowed to oppose the government’s plans, with Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed MP saying it came as ‘no surprise’ that the government had excluded disabled people from the consultation.
Plans to reform the Human Rights Act would ‘take away hard-won rights protections,’ he said, while SNP MP Anne McLaughlin called the government’s behaviour ‘discriminatory’ toward disabled people, adding that ‘democracy is universal not just for the select few who are able to navigate the government’s consultation process.’
This news comes just days after the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) wrote directly to Dominic Raab to request an official Government response to their report published in July 2021 that found there was ‘no case for changing the Human Rights Act’.
The government had been due to reply to the JCHR by September, but have still not responded nearly six months later.
Liberty is among many concerned by Raab’s plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, which had been initially framed as an ‘update’ but is now a wholesale replacement of the Act with a new Bill of Rights.
Among the changes are plans to lower the threshold for ‘positive obligations’, which are the legal obligations on public bodies to protect rights, and new amendments to human rights law that will make it much harder for people to challenge the government and public bodies when injustices occur.
This will be felt strongly by disabled people, as well as young people and children, who are more dependent on the services of public bodies, and for whom these changes will create larger barriers to challenging unlawful actions.
Martha Spurrier, Liberty director, said: ‘This is a complex and hugely important consultation which will affect everybody’s human rights.
‘To publish the “easy read” document with just 12 days left is insulting to all those living with disabilities.
‘It is now virtually impossible for many disabled people to respond, including those with learning disabilities who may need to arrange extra support to access and respond to the consultation.
‘This is typical of a government that is desperate to push through these plans without a proper and inclusive conversation, having already completely ignored the findings of a nine-month long independent report.
‘The fact the government have also not even taken into account the JCHR’s report makes this whole exercise appear like a sham.
‘I urge the Justice Secretary to extend the deadline so that all disabled people have a full 12 weeks, not 12 days, to respond to this consultation that will have a huge impact on their basic human rights.’