The UK Ministry of Justice released a report on Monday detailing its responses to human rights issues flagged by judgments in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and its domestic courts. The report also addressed outstanding issues such as concerns with the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023, human rights issues in the Gender Recognition Act 2004 (GRA), and potential changes to the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA).
The UK is one of 46 member states of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), an international convention that enforces human rights standards. As a member state, the UK is obliged to implement judgements made by the ECtHR in any cases it is a party to. Under the HRA, UK courts can also declare any domestic law as incompatible with the ECHR. Following a declaration of incompatibility, the government must amend the law to make it compatible with rights set out in the ECHR. This report outlined how the government has fulfilled these obligations in the last reporting year.
Regarding cases in the ECtHR, 16 judgements needed to be addressed by the government. Of these judgements, the prominent issues concerned the Northern Ireland Troubles Act and the Bill of Rights Bill. The Committee of Ministers who oversee the implementation of ECtHR judgements “reiterated its concerns” about the act, which was implemented this year. It attempts to “address the legacy of the Northern Ireland Troubles and promote reconciliation” by limiting criminal investigations and legal proceedings into events that happened during the Troubles. The report stated that while “some aspects of the Act are uncomfortable,” they must be “realistic” and “do things differently” in order “to provide greater information, accountability and acknowledgement to victims and families.” The report further stated that the government have made amendments in line with this goal. The government’s actions regarding this issue will be reconsidered by the Committee of Ministers in June 2024.
Another prominent issue addressed by the report was the Bill of Rights Bill which sought to “clarif[y] and re-balance the relationship between courts in the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights and Parliament.” The report focused on one ECtHR case concerning an Article 13 of the ECHR, which grants the right to an effective remedy. This right could have been aided by the introduction of the Bill of Rights, which would have repealed and replaced some relevant provisions of the HRA. However, the government announced in June that they would not move forward with the Bill of Rights. Instead, “the Government is looking carefully at its legislative agenda and exploring alternative legislative options” to address this particular judgement.
The report further highlighted that over the course of the reporting year, five declarations of incompatibility were made by domestic courts. Of this number, three remedial orders were passed to remove the incompatibility, two declarations were set aside by courts, and two declarations remain outstanding. One of the latter concerned a violation within the GRA, which allows transgender individuals to legally change their gender. However, the court found that a requirement in the GRA for the applicant to prove they are suffering from a “disorder” was incompatible with the ECHR. The government intends to address this with a remedial order. Last week, His Majesty King Charles III laid out the goals of UK Prime Minister’s Rishi Sunak’s government at the State Opening of Parliament, focusing on criminal justice.