Category: Bill of Rights


What lies beneath the Commission on a Bill of Rights report – Amy Williams

20 December 2012 by

COMBARDon’t be fooled! We have been led to believe there was a two-way split on the government-appointed Bill of Rights Commission, which published its report on Tuesday, but the split was at least three-way. The Commissioners tell us that ‘it [was] not always easy to disentangle in the opinions expressed to [them] what are tactical positions rather than fundamental beliefs’. The same must surely be said of the report’s seven ‘majority’ authors.

The two dissenters who did not sign up to the majority’s conclusions – Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws QC and Philippe Sands QC – are clear: the time is not ripe for a new UK Bill of Rights. This is because (a) the devolution arrangements in the UK, in which the HRA is successfully embedded, are potentially about to undergo significant change (post-Scottish referendum) (b) the majority of respondents  to the Commission’s consultation support the HRA as the UK’s Bill of Rights which incorporates the ECHR rights (but not the European Court case law) into domestic law and (c) for some Commissioners, a Bill of Rights would be a means to decoupling the connection between the United Kingdom and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In sum, “the case for a UK bill of rights has not been made” and the arguments against such a Bill “remain far more persuasive, at least for now.”

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The Bill of Rights Commission report: a modest proposal

18 December 2012 by

COMBAR

Update, 15:15: I originally referred below to there being a majority of six versus two in favour of introducing a bill of rights. This was wrong – in fact there were seven. The Commission chair, Sir Leigh Lewis, should have been included in that number.

The Commission on a Bill of Rights has reported, just in time for its end-of-2012 deadline. The documents are here: News release ; Volume 1 ; Volume 2.

I have read the introduction, which sets out the main proposals. A few things that jumped out:

  • As predicted by most people since the beginning, there are areas of agreement but also some significant disagreements. Only seven out of the nine Commissioners believe there should be a bill of rights. Helena Kennedy and Philippe Sands disagree. Even the title is equivocal: “A UK Bill of Rights? The choice before us“.
  • This is not a unified document, but rather a running, almost Socratic, dialectic between the nine members. It is difficult to follow who agrees with which bit, even in individual paragraphs which are often qualified by “a majority believes”. Bizarrely, and going beyond even my pessimistic expectations of strife, there are eight (eight!) separate papers written by individuals and groups of individuals included in the report, including one by Lord Faulks and Jonathan Fisher on the European Court and why it is going beyond its original remit, one by Sands and Kennedy on why they don’t think there should be a bill of rights, a personal explanatory note by Lord Lester… it goes on. That is one of the reasons this is such a long document.

Commission on a Bill of Rights BINGO!

17 December 2012 by

As promised on Twitter, in readiness for tomorrow’s Commission on a Bill of Rights report (for more, see my post about grasshoppers), here is BILL OF RIGHTS COMMISSION BINGO!

You can click on the picture below or click here to download the PDF.. Diagonal lines count! And the centre square is a free square so you can cross through that too. Enjoy playing – the rules are in the PDF. Hopefully some serious coverage tomorrow as well. (Update – the Commission report is out, my initial analysis is here).

Bill of Rights Commission Bingo

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Run for the hills! Here come the noisy grasshoppers

17 December 2012 by

5629_grasshopper-121114-b-gettyThe Commission on a Bill of Rights is rumoured to be publishing its report tomorrow, just in time for its end-of-2012 deadline. It is also widely being reported, unsurprisingly, that the Commission may not produce a unified report at all. Unsurprising because the Commission was set an almost impossible task from the start.

Four Conservatives and four Liberal Democrats told to “sort out” UK human rights (the terms of reference were a little less vague, but that’s basically it), whilst also being limited to proposing a Bill of Rights that “incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights“. In other words, the could do very little at all except fiddle with our already existing, and actually quite elegant, Human Rights Act 1998. I have compared any new Bill of Rights arising from the Commission a bit like an updated Ford Fiesta; a new look and a few new features, but essentially the same car.

There will be plenty of analysis once the report is released. I wanted to concentrate here on the likely reaction. Matthew Parris got it right in Saturday’s Times (£) when he quoted Edmund Burke:

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Whose voices count in our human rights debate? – Sanchita Hosali

10 December 2012 by

HRD2012_EN_smallToday is Human Rights Day, marking the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Sanchita Hosali, from the British Institute of Human Rights, an independent charity working to bring rights to life beyond the statue books and courtrooms, reflects on our domestic human rights debates and those voices that are often missing from the conversation.

Last week saw 72 MPs vote in favour of a motion to repeal the Human Rights Act. So today, on Human Rights Day, 72 civil society groups have written to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister urging them to safeguard the Human Rights Act.  As we await the report from the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights, what unites these 72 groups is concern and disappointment that “what should be a healthy debate about how best to secure the human rights of each and every one of us has, for far too long, lacked political leadership.” This “jeopardises the progress we have made at home in ensuring that our human rights obligations lead to real change for people in their everyday lives.”

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Hugely important report due imminently… no, not that one

28 November 2012 by

Remember the Commission on a Bill of Rights? You know, the one set up by the Government in the early days of the Coalition to sort out the Human Rights Act? No, not the Leveson Inquiry; that’s about the media (you may have heard that it is reporting tomorrow). CBOR is the one with the eight lawyers, four selected by each of the Coalition partners, a bit like a legal Brady Bunch.

Some accused the Government of kicking the rights issue into the long grass by assigning it to a commission with a far away reporting date – the end of 2012. It seemed so far away, back in the halcyon summer of 2010. Remember David Cameron and Nick Clegg’ romance in the Rose Garden?

Well, the long grass has now grown and CBOR is due to report in just over a month. As I posted in July, the Commission has consulted the public for a second time. The responses have now been published, categorised into Individual responsesRespondent organisations and bodies and Postcard responses. In case you were wondering about the ‘postcard responses’ these resulted from campaigns organised by the British Institute of Human Rights and the Human Rights Consortium.

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Debating the Abu Qatada affair – Gavin Phillipson

26 November 2012 by

I watched the BBC’s flagship political debate Question Time last week and saw a panel of senior politicians from the three main parties plus UKIP debate the implications of the Abu Qatada affair with the audience. You can watch it here (starts at 8 mins 27 seconds) and I urge you to do so. I found the debate illuminating and alarming in equal measure; it made me reflect seriously on how precarious Britain’s interwoven system of international and domestic protection for human rights may actually be these days.

It seems a long time ago that we naively thought that repeal of the Human Rights Act was “unthinkable” – now withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) itself must seemingly be taken as a serious possibility, depending on the outcome of the next election.  The failure of the HRA to implant itself into our political, still less our popular culture was starkly apparent from the debate: I don’t think anyone even mentioned it. A statute that should surely be an important reference point in any discussion of a contemporary UK human rights issue has become so marginalised and misunderstood that it simply didn’t come up. Can one imagine American – or German – politicians discussing such an issue without mentioning their constitutional Bills of Rights – or Canadians, without mentioning the Charter?

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UK’s relationship with the Council of Europe soon to reach a turning point – Joshua Rozenberg

7 November 2012 by

In a couple of weeks’ time, the government’s relationship with the Council of Europe will reach something of a turning point.

If the UK is going to comply with its international treaty obligations, ministers will have to “bring forward legislative proposals” by 22 November that will end what the European court of human rights calls the “general, automatic and indiscriminate disenfranchisement of all serving prisoners”.

That’s all the government has to do. There’s no need to give all or even most prisoners the vote. Parliament doesn’t even have to approve the proposals, although its failure to do so would lead to further challenges in due course.

But the prime minister painted himself into a corner last month. It’s true he offered to have “another vote in parliament on another resolution”. But a resolution is not the same as a bill. And David Cameron said, in terms: “Prisoners are not getting the vote under this government.”

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The rights (and wrongs) of human rights (and human wrongs)

7 November 2012 by

I have an opinion piece in this week’s Jewish Chronicle, We should support and not condemn Human Rights Act. The “we” in the title is the Jewish community, of which I am a part, although it also amounts to a fairly broad  defence of the Human Rights Act.

The article was at first intended as a direct response to an opinion piece by Jonathan Fisher QC entitled The wrongs of human rights, but because of editorial pressures at the Jewish Chronicle it could not be published until a few weeks later, and as such ended up being a more general article. I have already commented on this blog on why I thought the timing of Fisher’s article was a little odd given that the Bill of Rights Commission, on which he sits, was still consulting the public on the very issues he addressed passionately in the article. I said:

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Human rights and the UK constitution (or, why turkeys don’t vote for Christmas)

27 September 2012 by

The British Academy have today published a very interesting new report by Colm O’Cinneide considering the workings of the UK human rights law, the relationship between the ECHR, UK courts and the Parliament and the potential effect of a bill of rights.

The report (full report / executive summary) had a prestigious steering committee, including Professor Vernon Bognodor, who knows a bit about the British constitution, and Professor Conor Gearty. The conclusions represent – at least in my experience – the mainstream view amongst legal academics, lawyers and indeed judges on the human rights system. In summary, and with apologies if this is an over-simplification of the report’s detailed findings:

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Bill of Rights Commission: loading the dice?

23 September 2012 by

Jonathan Fisher QC wrote an opinion piece in last week’s Jewish Chronicle entitled “The wrongs of human rights“.  The article is highly critical of the human rights movement and raises the alarm over recent decisions on religious rights and “growing attacks on our traditions”. It also makes a strong case for the adding of a list of “responsibilities” to the Human Rights Act, which Fisher argues would be “more closely aligned with Judaism’s approach”. The article pulled no punches and chose the most emotive of starting points:

Using human-rights principles to attempt to ban circumcision in Germany is a grotesque insult to the memory of Holocaust victims. The Jewish jurists who helped inspire the human-rights movement must be spinning in their graves at the intellectual violence that their legacy has spawned.

I have written before about the misuse of the Holocaust to justify arguments for reforming the Human Rights Act (the human rights debate has its own version ‘Goodwin’s Law‘). But I will leave the substance of the article for another day – I will be responding soon in the same newspaper. Rather, I wanted to discuss  the timing of the article.

As regular readers may know, Fisher is one of the eight member of the Commission on a Bill of Rights, which is currently consulting the public for a second time (see my post). The consultation is closing on 30 September 2012 and the Commission is due to report before the end of the year. No mention is made of the fact that Fisher is a Bill of Rights Commissioner; he is described as a “visiting professor of law at the London School of Economics”.

Does anyone else find this a little odd?
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Will the Bill of Rights Commission achieve anything at all? – Alice Donald

19 September 2012 by

It’ll all be over by Christmas: that’s what the coalition promised when it established the Commission on a Bill of Rights to, among other things:

… investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law, and protects and extends our liberties.

With less than four months to go, it seems a good time to reflect upon its work. My premise is that the process by which a bill of rights is created is as important as the outcome if the bill is to enjoy longevity and democratic legitimacy, in the sense of having been subject to inclusive and informed public deliberation. This lesson has been learned in contexts from Northern Ireland to Australia, where energetic consultation processes were designed using community organising techniques, televised hearings, the internet, social networking and other creative forms of public engagement. These are explored in research I conducted for the Equality and Human Rights Commission ahead of the 2010 general election.


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Don’t believe everything you read: there is a case for socio-economic rights – Professor Aoife Nolan

17 July 2012 by

Last week, a number of media commentators, politicians and others sought to subvert the second consultation of the Bill of Rights Commission.  This consultation invites views on a number of key issues that form part of the Commission’s mandate. In the Daily Mail’s correspondent’s view, the Commission has committed an appalling transgression by asking potential respondents whether the UK Bill of Rights should include additional rights, referring amongst other things to socio-economic rights. This is echoed by the Sun which argues that the Commission has ‘suggested’ (which it clearly has not) that ‘all Brits be given handouts as a birth right’, and the Daily Express which suggests “Spongers can Sue to Claim Benefits”.

Socio-economic rights are rights that relate to human survival and development.  Like the majority of European and other countries, the UK has volunteered to be bound by a range of such rights as a result of ratifying a number of international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ratified by the UK in 1976); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified in 1992) and the European Social Charter (ratified by the UK in 1962). While these treaties haven’t been made part of our domestic law in the way the European Convention on Human Rights has been as a result of the Human Rights Act, they impose a range of human rights obligations on the UK. The government reports back periodically to the UN expert committees that monitor the implementation of these treaties.

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Second time lucky? Bill of Rights Commission consults… again

11 July 2012 by

Last year, the troubled Commission on a Bill of Rights consulted the public on whether the UK needed a new human rights instrument. Many, including me, commented that the consultation document was a little sparse on detail.  In any event, the consultation closed in November 2011. The full responses have been published here and you can also read my  summary of some of the submissions

Anyway, eight months and one acrimonious resignation later, not to mention just over 5 months before the Commission is due to report, they are consulting again. This time, the consultation document is more substantial and provides some useful detail as to the kind of ideas being considered. The Commission has requested that those responding don’t repeat what they have already said. The deadline for responses is 30 September 2012. This must put the Commission’s deadline to report by the end of 2012  in some doubt, unless the point of the consultation is simply to confirm what it has already decided.

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Article 8 and a half

10 June 2012 by

Tomorrow, the Home Secretary will announce to Parliament plans to give judges guidance on how to interpret Article 8 ECHR (the right to private and family life) in foreign criminal deportation cases. There has been already significant speculation as to whether the long-heralded changes will make much or even any difference.

It is not yet clear whether the Home Secretary intends to restrict the use of Article 8 in foreign deportation cases completely, as suggested here, or rather attempt to tweak the way it is applied by judges. The latter is more likely.

We will report in full when the proposals are revealed. But in the meantime, a quick comment on the slightly odd coverage of the story in the press. For example, the BBC reports:

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