Human Rights Act reform: why does it matter to journalists?

  • 03 Mar 2022

NUJ Ethics Council holds a second webinar with the British Institute of Human Rights.

The NUJ’s Ethics council and British Institute of Human Rights (BIHR) held a second webinar in February 2022, exploring changes to the Human Rights Act. Speakers were joined by Charlie Whelton, policy and campaigns officer at Liberty.

Carlyn Miller, head of policy and programmes at the British Institute of Human Rights introduced her presentation by reminding engaged attendees of government’s December 2019 manifesto promise to "update" the Human Rights Act. She highlighted that two years later, in December 2021, the consultation paper presented proposals in contrast to those originally stated. 

Key concerns

Delegates heard that arguments put forward to support the new bill of rights often rests on a small evidence base, with most of the immigration cases referenced by government, poor examples due to a change of law in 2014. 

Carlyn Miller highlighted that government’s new proposals, risk diluting the strength of the Human Rights Act and its compatibility with other laws. Explaining there had been instances where decisions made under the Mental Health Act had been challenged for failing to respect human rights, audience members were able to better understand the damaging impact any dilution of the current act may have.


Government published an easy read version of consultation documents but failed to extend the 12-week deadline for responses. This decision is being challenged by the BIHR. Natasha Hirst, NUJ vice-president, also highlighted the broader inaccessibility of the consultation, stating it “does not speak to actions of a state who want to protect people.”

Charlie Whelton, explored how the bill of rights would result in weakened human rights for all. His presentation considered the language used by government when framing proposals, and the important role journalists can play when communicating the act. He reminded delegates of the right to freedom of expression and the ways in which it impacts journalists' ability to conduct their work. The new bill of rights could mean restrictions to our privacy to a greater degree and would undermine our rights.

Chris Frost, NUJ Ethics council sad:

"The Human Rights Act is incredibly important and underpins the rights of journalists and others. The proposed Bill of rights is an attack on our democratic rights as citizens, trade unionists and journalists. We must work together to ensure we challenge government and defend the ability to protect our rights."

What action can journalists take?

  • Remember, the Human Rights Act exists to hold the state to account. Continue to present facts when reporting, to ensure information in the public sphere is accurate
  • Access BIHR resources to help upskill yourself and increase your knowledge on key issues 

Thank you to NUJ members who attended and engaged in a lively Q&A. The Human Rights Act consultation closes on 8 March. Find out more here. Read about the first NUJ Ethics council and BIHR webinar

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