A COALITION OF 30 CHILDREN’S CHARITIES led by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, including the National Children’s Bureau, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), the Children’s Law Centre, and Children England, have sent a letter to the Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, calling for the UK Government to abandon its proposals for a Bill of Rights, which is expected to feature in the forthcoming Queen’s speech.
The group, which collectively represent decades of experience in children’s rights across all four jurisdictions of the UK, has warned that the Government’s proposals will significantly weaken children’s human rights and the ability of children to hold the Government and of public bodies to account where their rights have been infringed.
The Human Rights Act (HRA) plays a crucial role in the protection and promotion of the rights of children. Since it came into force, it has provided important protections for some of our most vulnerable children, such as children in care, child witnesses, children in custody, and refugee children.
Importantly for children who depend heavily on public services, section 6 of the HRA also places a duty on public bodies to comply with the human rights obligations contained within it, including the police and the youth secure estate, care institutions, courts, publicly funded schools, and local authorities.
The coalition is deeply concerned with the Government’s specific proposals which could:
- Create unnecessary barriers to children’s access to justice, complicate, delay and add costs to proceedings through introducing a ‘permission stage’ at the start of a human rights legal case.
- Change the definition of ‘public authorities’. This could mean that the HRA does not apply to private providers of public services. This is particularly crucial for the protection of children who live in institutions run by private providers, for example, Secure Training Centres and children’s homes.
- Stop the courts overturning secondary legislation that is incompatible with children’s rights and the HRA and instead only allow them to make a ‘declaration of incompatibility’. Secondary legislation covers regulations that can have a wide-ranging impact on many aspects of children’s lives, such as welfare reform.
Louise King, Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), said: “We urge the UK Government to abandon its proposals for a Bill of Rights, which will significantly weaken respect for children’s human rights and the ability of children to hold the UK Government and public bodies to account where rights have been infringed.
“We work with some of the most vulnerable children in society and it’s crucial that their rights set out in the Human Rights Act are not diluted in any way.”
Juliet Harris, Director of Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) said: “The Human Rights Act is a powerful and essential mechanism for upholding children’s human rights. If progressed, these proposals would be deeply regressive, making it harder for children to enforce their rights and further undermining Scotland’s attempts to strengthen the protection of children’s rights in law.”
As the UN Convention on the Rights on the Child (CRC) – which the UK ratified in 1991 – has not been incorporated into UK domestic law, the HRA plays a crucial role in the protection and promotion of the rights of children, enabling them to claim and enforce some of the rights contained in the CRC. These include children’s right to life, to be free of slavery and forced labour and not to be treated in inhuman or degrading ways, their right to freedom of expression, to private and family life and their right to education. Case law has also made clear that when a case under the HRA involves a child, the rights in the HRA must be interpreted through the lens of the CRC.
Since the HRA came into force, CRAE says it has provided important protections for some of the most vulnerable children such as children in care, child witnesses, children in custody, and refugee children.
* Source: Children’s Rights Alliance for England