Ministers have bowed to pressure from disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and allies to extend the deadline for those with certain access needs to respond to a consultation on the Human Rights Act.
There had been anger over the failure of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to produce an “easy read” version of the consultation document, and an audio version.
An initial version that MoJ claimed was in easy read format was criticised for being “insufficient to the point of being insulting”, and it was only published 12 days before the consultation was due to end.
MoJ finally published both a genuine easy read document and an audio version this week, on the day the consultation was due to end.
It announced that the consultation had been extended until 19 April, but only for those who needed the easy read or audio versions.
Those who want to take advantage of the new deadline will need to request permission for an extension.
More than 40 DPOs had signed a letter to justice secretary Dominic Raab to complain about the failure to produce an easy read version.
An open letter to Raab – coordinated by the human rights organisation Liberty – had warned that refusing to extend the deadline was “refusing to enable people to take part”.
Junior justice minister James Cartlidge finally announced on Tuesday – the day the consultation was due to end – that the deadline would be extended by six weeks, to 19 April, “for those with needs for an easy-read or audio version of the consultation document”.
Cartlidge said that MoJ officials would also be conducting “focused engagement sessions with disability organisations to explore the proposals outlined in the consultation further”.
Liberty described MoJ’s actions this week as “a discriminatory shambles”.
Bethany Bale, policy and campaigns officer for Disability Rights UK, one of the DPOs that signed the Liberty letter, said: “It is only right that the government has listened and acted on complaints that this important consultation was inaccessible and has increased the timeframe for responses accordingly.
“We welcome the extension.
“Going forward, we hope that government recognises its legal obligation under the Equality Act for parity of consultation time for all formats of information, and implements this.”
Disabled people have previously warned of the risk that the government’s bid to replace the Human Rights Act with a new bill of rights could be used to water down protections.
Yesterday (Wednesday), the Equality and Human Rights Commission warned in its response to the consultation that some of the government’s proposals risked reducing protections and lacked evidence.
Baroness Falkner, EHRC’s chair, said: “We welcome the government’s proposals to maintain human rights protections, including by remaining part of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“But we question other proposals where evidence for change is lacking, and will oppose any changes that risk reducing or weakening human rights in Britain.”
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