News News Human Rights Act reform: Government must remember that Article 2 protects us all 11 March 2022 INQUEST and the INQUEST Lawyers Group are strongly opposed to any changes which may diminish the legal rights allowing crucial investigations to happen or that risk reducing the intensity of their scrutiny. In December 2021, the Government opened a consultation on proposals to reform the Human Rights Act (HRA) and create a ‘Modern Bill of Rights’. Despite concerns that plans to ‘overhaul’ the HRA were both unnecessary and unjustified, the Government have pressed ahead with proposals that may limit the rights available to bereaved families. INQUEST and Inquest Lawyers Group submitted a response to this consultation. Our response focusses on the need for the Government not to row back on commitments to Article 2 – the right to life – which has assisted many bereaved families to achieve some measure of justice and accountability in connection with the deaths of their loved ones. Article 2 protects us all Implicit in the Government’s consultation is a denial of the overwhelmingly positive impact of Article 2: we are all protected by the systems in place because of the right to life. For example, Article 2 requires frontline hospital staff and police officers to be trained in safeguarding vulnerable adults and children. Yet the Government are silent on the many ways the public is protected by Article 2. Transforming inquests and investigations The coming into force of the HRA was a watershed moment in the development of proper investigations into state-related deaths. Such changes were essential. Before the HRA the scope of inquests was narrow, and the permitted conclusions were very limited. The old provisions facilitated catastrophic injustices and investigative failures such as the first Bloody Sunday inquiry and the original Hillsborough inquests. Further, because of the HRA and Article 2: Families have had a chance to better understand the full circumstances in which their loved ones died. Inquests and inquiries have achieved some degree of accountability. Lives have been saved by changes which have resulted from the fact-finding, accountability and Prevention of Future Death reports made at the end of many such investigations. Inequality of Arms The consultation also suggests that reform is necessary to preserve public resources. However, the Government have provided no evidence to show that positive obligations such as those contained in Article 2 have resulted in anything more than a marginal effect on public spending. In contrast, public bodies spend substantial amounts of public money on legal representation at inquests and inquiries. This is even though many families do not have access to legal aid for their representations at inquests. Many are forced to crowdfund, pay out of pocket, or represent themselves at inquests. As recently highlighted by the Chair of the Justice Select Committee, lawyers representing public authorities often serve to protect institutional reputations rather than to assist investigations. Again, the Government have paid little attention to this stark injustice in their consultation. Improvements We do not doubt the HRA can be improved. In fact, INQUEST has campaigned for improvements for 40 years, but the Government’s current proposals are plainly aimed at reducing this important legal framework. That is a backward step. INQUEST continues to campaign to make investigations into state-related deaths more effective and efficient. Our three central campaign issues are: Provision of non-means tested public funding for legal representation of the bereaved at inquests where Article 2 may be engaged, or public authorities are involved. A statutory duty of candour. This would enhance the investigatory process for all interested persons, make the task of the coroner far easier, and result in swifter and more efficient inquests. A national oversight mechanism for the proper and expeditious consideration of Prevention of Future Deaths (PFD) and inquiry recommendations and effective implementation of changes to improve public safety. If the Government wishes to improve human rights protections, it should address these three issues rather than look to reduce the impact of the HRA.