Will the Human Rights Act be scrapped if we have a no-deal Brexit?

Will the Human Rights Act be scrapped if we have a no-deal Brexit?

According to Thomson Reuters, UK businesses currently rely on the Human Rights Act as a way in which to contest decisions made by government and regulatory bodies

The threat of a no-deal Brexit is enough of a concern for businesses when they consider how this could affect their supply chain, employee retention/availability, productivity, and stability—but what about human rights?

According to research conducted through the analysis of Westlaw and Lawtel (Thomson Reuters’ online legal research service), Thomson Reuters has drawn some rather interesting statistics in this area.

It has become clear that, over the last 12 months, UK businesses have increased their usage of the Human Rights Act to protect themselves from unfair decisions made by government and regulatory bodies.

Author of Human Rights: Judicial Protection in the UK and barrister, Tom Hickman, said: “The Human Rights Act is now an important protection for businesses that feel they are unfairly damaged by the decision making of a government body or regulator.”

In just a year, the number of reported UK court cases involving arguments based on the Human Rights Act has increased by 27% to 28 cases (in 2017-18). In 2016-2017, 22 cases were reported.

Thomson Reuters stated: “The most frequent use of the Human Rights Act by businesses last year involved appeals against alleged unlawful decisions by government bodies and regulators.

“Businesses have a duty to their shareholders to protect their interests, and this may include appealing against a decision by a government department, local authority, or regulator, that could have a serious financial impact on their business.”

The current Human Rights Act was introduced in 2000, and the “Act’s protections detailed in the European Convention on Human Rights, including ‘freedom of expression’ and the ‘right to a fair trial’.

“The idea that the Human Rights Act is a rogue’s charter was always inaccurate,” Hickman added.

It is certainly worth asking the question: in the instance of a no-deal, will these aspects of the Human Rights Act change? If so, to what effect?

According to Thomson Reuters, for UK businesses, the most “commonly used” parts of the Human Rights Acts are as follows:

  • Judicial remedies: Businesses can claim compensation for any monetary or reputational damage that is proven to be caused by an incorrect decision by a government body.
  • Right to peaceful enjoyment of property: If businesses can prove there has been an unfair removal of assets with monetary value, such as property or licences, UK businesses are within their rights to argue against it.
  • Freedom of expression: Businesses should be allowed the freedom to share information in whatever form; this grants them a defence against privacy laws. Media companies tend to evoke this section of the law more than others.

“The Human Rights Act is also often used in legal disputes with HMRC, which has been granted a range of new powers over the last year to seize assets or force taxpayers to pay disputed taxes, such as Accelerated Payment Notices,” Thomson Reuters continued in their report.

16 cases of businesses challenging HMRC decisions using the Human Rights Act were reported last year.

Without the Human Rights Act in place, changes that could be wrought when the UK departs from the EU on March 29 run the risk of leaving businesses exposed to public authority decisions.

Hickman concluded: “There is a lot of concern that, as part of Brexit, the Human Rights Act will be scrapped. If that happens, there will be worries that an essential check on the behaviour of government departments and regulators is removed at the expense of ordinary citizens and businesses.”

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