More than 40 disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) have signed a letter to the justice secretary to ask why he waited until 12 days before the end of a consultation on the Human Rights Act to publish an “easy read” version.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) finally produced a document that it said was in easy read on 24 February, just 12 days before the consultation on the future of the act was due to end.
Disability and human rights organisations say the new document – a shorter, text-only version of the consultation – is not a genuine easy read document, and that it is “insufficient to the point of being insulting”.
They have also criticised the government’s failure to provide an audio version of the consultation document.
They have called on MoJ to extend the deadline to allow people with learning difficulties 12 weeks from the date when a “proper easy read version” is eventually published to respond to the consultation.
The consultation period is due to end on Tuesday (8 March).
The government has said it is committed to replacing the Human Rights Act with a new bill of rights, but disabled people have previously warned of the risk that the government’s bid to replace the act could be used to water down protections.
The human rights organisation Liberty described the latest proposals in December as a “blatant, unashamed power grab from a government that wants to put themselves above the law”.
The government’s proposals include plans to “restrain” the imposition and expansion of legal obligations on public bodies to protect rights, and to make it harder for people to challenge the government and public bodies over injustices.
The consultation document makes it clear that the government’s proposals are “far-reaching” and claims that they will “restore common sense to the application of human rights in the UK”.
Among the DPOs to have signed the letter – which has been coordinated by Liberty – are Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Inclusion London, Disability Sheffield, and People First (Self Advocacy).
Bethany Bale, DR UK’s policy and campaigns officer, said: “The fact that this consultation wasn’t made available in accessible formats until less than two weeks before the deadline is an unacceptable failure to uphold the public sector equality duty, as set out by the Equality Act.
“But more than that, it’s a clear and concerning message to disabled people that the government doesn’t want to hear our voices on this issue.
“We can assume from previous and current policies that whatever Human Rights Act reforms are implemented, disabled people will be disproportionately impacted.
“For a group whose rights are often already not met, it’s crucial that the government hold meaningful consultation with disabled people and DPOs on these proposed reforms.”
Martha Spurrier, Liberty director, said that to publish the easy read version of a “complex and hugely important consultation” with just 12 days left was “insulting” to all disabled people and meant it was now “virtually impossible” for many disabled people to respond, including those with learning difficulties who may need to arrange extra support to access and respond to the document.
She said: “This is typical of a government that is desperate to push through these plans without a proper and inclusive conversation, having already completely ignored the findings of a nine-month-long independent report.
“I urge the justice secretary to extend the deadline so that all disabled people have a full 12 weeks, not 12 days, to respond to this consultation that will have a huge impact on their basic human rights.”
Labour, the Greens and the Scottish National Party all criticised the government’s access failures.
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “It’s staggering that the UK government thinks it’s OK to exclude disabled people from fully participating in consultation about the Human Rights Act.
“Human rights are precious and affect each and every one of us – the deadline needs to be extended so disabled people’s voices can be heard.”
The open letter to MoJ (PDF), sent this week to justice secretary Dominic Raab, says: “There was no reason for the consultation to be launched before provision was made that would enable everyone affected to take part in the process.
“There is certainly no reason why disabled people should now have only 12 days – or less – to respond to proposals that will have a direct impact on their lives.”
The letter adds: “Even with an easy read version, people with learning difficulties will need support to respond, which takes time to arrange and execute.
“Refusing to extend the deadline is refusing to enable people to take part.”
The MoJ says on its website that it is still “working with suppliers” to provide a proper easy read document.
MoJ told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday) that an audio version of the consultation document would be published this week, less than a week before the consultation period ends.
It also suggested that the reason for the delay in publishing the easy read version was that it had been let down by its suppliers
But it refused to say why ministers were not extending the deadline to take account of the delays in producing accessible versions, and whether it believed this was a breach of its Equality Act duties.
An MoJ spokesperson said: “We are working urgently to address delays caused by supplier issues and have published an interim version but apologise for the wait for a fully accessible document.”
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