The Human Cost of Brexit: How the post-Brexit human rights regime will impact the legal market

September 3, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

A potential post-Brexit scrapping of the Human Rights Act (HRA) and the establishment of a UK Bill of Rights will have a far-reaching impact on the relationship of the legal marketplace with human rights.

What does this mean?

The HRA was enacted in 1998 under Tony Blair’s premiership and has been in operation since 2000. The HRA gives effect to most of the rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law.

The main advantage of having a UK Bill of Rights is that the provisions included will be entrenched, enjoying a higher status, as well as being designed to fit British needs and traditions. However, they might be less rigid than the respective EU provisions, as incorporated in the Human Rights Act.

David Cameron’s government strongly rallied to repeal the Act and replace it with a British Bill, breaking the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights. This would render the British Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK. Theresa May had reopened the conversation, by pledging to scrap the Act.

Therefore, the commitment of the government to the Act post-Brexit remains uncertain.

Why should law firms care?

Despite the fact that corporate law and human rights are often viewed as distinct legal and policy spheres, the impact of a potential scrapping of the HRA would be vital for commercial law. Many businesses will have to adapt and thus need be consulted accordingly. 

In the UK, private sector entities which perform a public function (such as care homes, prison services, cleaning services, etc.) have duties under the HRA, which might change if the Act is scrapped.

Further, changes to human rights remain relevant even for those businesses that do not perform a public function. This is because their clients might interfere with some of the rights expressed, such as the effect of Article 8 on privacy on freedom of expression for media companies. As such, any changes to the human rights framework will have an effect on these clients.

Lastly, the UK government has recently published a National Action Plan for implementing the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). Here they set out their expectation that UK companies respect human rights. This Plan might be incorporated in a potential Bill, changing the duties and responsibilities of businesses. As such, the changes to the human rights system and its relationship to the legal marketplace looks set to undergo a radical change.

Report written by Vasiliki Poula

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