Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Bill of Rights could weaken future rights of people with a learning disability

Learning Disability England and its representative body members have expressed concerns that the new Bill of Rights will remove some legal protection from people with a learning disability.

The new Bill of Rights had its first reading in the House of Commons this week (Wednesday) and could replace the current Human Rights Act.

In a statement, the government said that the Bill will ensure courts cannot interpret laws in ways that were never intended by Parliament and will empower people to express their views freely.

At the same time, it will help prevent trivial human rights claims from wasting judges’ time and taxpayer money. A permission stage in court will be introduced requiring people to show they have suffered a significant disadvantage before their claim can go ahead.

Provider organisations that support people with learning disabilities have been reflecting on how it will affect them and the potential impact on how they work.

As people with learning disabilities and their families are often dependent on a range of public bodies upholding the human rights protections they rely on, they are worried that the Bill will weaken this requirement.

Views from members of Learning Disability England

Mary Woodhall, a self advocate and  Rep Body member of Learning Disability England, said: “Human Rights laws make sure we are treated fairly and with respect and have a say over the important things in our lives. This has not always happened for people with learning disabilities.?

“And now there is a fear this new Bill of Rights may take some of that protection away. This is making some people with learning disabilities feel isolated, scared and left out.”

Tim Keilty, who works for New Prospects and is a paid supporter member rep on the Rep Body said:  “People we support knowing their rights and organisations upholding these rights are fundamental to good support. ?

“I am worried by the speed of the changes, the lack of any meaningful time for consultation. Good things are rarely done quickly; by rushing this Bill through without peoples’ views being heard, we may find ourselves stuck in messy legal arguments, sucking yet more money out of a chronically underfunded system.

“This is particularly scary at a time of overhaul of the mental health act and liberty protections safeguards too.”

Wendy Burt, family carer and family and friend rep on the Rep Body said: “As a family member of a person with learning disabilities, I am very worried about the proposals in the Bill of Rights to get rid of the requirement to interpret laws in a way that is compatible with human rights.?

“There have already been too many tragedies where people with learning disabilities have not had their human rights respected.?And families have not been listened to.

“This Bill, and especially the changes happening so fast, risks creating confusion, uncertainty and less security for the very people in society most at risk of human rights abuses.”

Lurch backwards for British justice

The Law Society have said that the Bill will create an acceptable class of human rights abuses in the UK– by introducing a bar on claims deemed not to cause ‘significant disadvantage’.

It added that it was a lurch backwards for British justice. Authorities may begin to consider some rights violations as acceptable, because these could no longer be challenged under the Bill of Rights despite being against the law.

Amnesty International also said the Bill would strip the public of its ‘most powerful tool’ to challenge official wrongdoing citing the response to the Hillsborough football disaster, and warned that it represented a ‘giant leap backwards’ for the rights of ordinary people.

Children could also be affected as the Human Rights Act underpins families’ battles to make the system for supporting children and young people with SEND work as it should, according to IPSEA (Independent Provider of Special Education Advice).

Catriona Moore, Policy Manager at IPSEA, added: “Any move to weaken the Human Rights Act will make it harder for children and young people with SEND to hold public authorities accountable, which undermines their rights and the protective environment the Act aims to foster.

“This is taking place at exactly the point when accountability is more necessary than ever in decision-making about education and support for children and young people with SEND, as the Government carries out a wide-ranging review of SEND provision. One of the biggest weaknesses in the way the SEND system works is the absence of accountability mechanisms to ensure that public bodies either follow the law or explain why they haven’t.”

Learning Disability England has been working closely with the British Institute of Human Rights to share resources and webinars to help everyone get involved and understand the planned changes.

You can see the BIHR resources, including easy read, and how to get involved here

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