Human Rights Act has ‘helped improve standards’

Human rights laws have been “very beneficial” in improving standards even though some cases can be “irksome” and “costly” for the government, according to a former attorney general.

Dominic Grieve QC said the Human Rights Act had made public bodies “pay attention to human rights in making decisions, particularly those affecting the old, vulnerable and children” and has led to an “improvement in standards.”

Mr Grieve, who was in post between 2010 and 2014, made the comments after the Government confirmed former Court of Appeal judge Sir Peter Gross would lead a panel to consider whether the Act needs to be reformed, some 20 years after it was brought into force.

Findings from the review are expected to be published in the summer.

Meanwhile, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights has launched an inquiry into the review.


Speaking to MPs and peers on Wednesday, Mr Grieve said the impact of the Act has been “entirely beneficial” and it has most benefitted “the rights of individuals against the executive actions of public authorities.”

Enacting the Act meant “public authorities had to pay attention to human rights in making decisions particularly those affecting the old, vulnerable and children”, he said, adding: “This has led to an improvement in standards that those groups have experienced.

“The single most important thing is the way in which people have been treated by public authorities has significantly altered from what was happening previously.”

Asked if the Act strikes the right balance between the courts and government, he said: “I had four years as Attorney General. Did I ever feel that government was being rendered ineffective by Human Rights Act claims? No I didn’t.”

He said the Act could be “irksome” and there was a cost to Government, but added: “When you actually factor that against the Government’s total expenditure, it’s a drop in the ocean.”

Although he said he had ministerial colleagues who were “sometimes irritated by some of the consequences of judgments”, he added: “I think you have to ask – is this a price worth paying for trying to maintain the standards which are contained in the convention?”

An adverse court decision is “helpful” and should be seen as something which can lead to better governance rather than something viewed as an impediment, he added.

Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, a former President of the Supreme Court, told the committee: “I think the system is working pretty well.”

The 2019 Conservative election manifesto pledged to take a fresh look at how the Act operates and to protect human rights to make sure the law “continues to meet the needs of the society it serves”.

Campaigners have warned tearing up human rights laws would be a “giant leap backwards” and said the Act must be protected for the good of democracy.

The Ministry of Justice previously said the UK remains “committed to the European Convention on Human Rights”, insisting the review is limited to looking at the “structural framework of the Human Rights Act, rather than the rights themselves”.

Areas the review will consider include the impact of human rights laws on the relationship between the judiciary, the Government and Parliament, whether “domestic courts are being unduly drawn into areas of policy”, and how rulings from the European Court of Human Rights are taken into account in UK courts.

At the same time, the Government is also looking into the workings of the Judicial Review process.