The Telegraph’s Andrew Hough and Tom Whitehead chime in with Britain loses 3 in 4 cases at human rights court. But are they right? To add a bit of spice to this statistical journey, I will aim to use at least one analogy involving a popular TV singing contest.
The “explosive research” is a report by Robert Broadhurst, a Parliamentary legal researcher for a group of Conservative MPs. The headline grabbing figures are in this paragraph:
Lord Irvine tonight weighed in to the debate about Britain’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights – and effectively accused the Supreme Court of having surrendered its intellectual independence, and shirked its judicial responsibility.
His at times toughly-worded lecture to the UCL Judicial Institute and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law chimes with what the Attorney General Dominic Grieve has been saying recently about the need for primary responsibility for human rights protection to lie with states, not Strasbourg – and Grieve will surely approve of both the content and timing of Lord Irvine’s intervention, on the eve of the European Court’s ruling in Al-Khawaja and Tahery v. UK and in the context of Britain’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe. I’ll link to the text of his speech when it’s available.
Although the bill is likely to pass, it is likely to do so in slightly revised form – knowledgable tweeters were predicting that the domestic violence and clinical negligence provisions were most likely to be affected.
Meanwhile, over at the Commission on a Bill of Rights, the somewhat dysfunctional committee will be combing through responses to its recently closed consultation. I have collated some of the responses below, mainly from people who have sent them to me. What follows is an entirely unscientific summary.
The commission’s establishment and composition provoked adverse comment. The mood of open hostility to existing human rights law merged with the potential for engineered political standoff, as the commission members are split between those who support the Human Rights Act and those who oppose it. A commission born from political compromise looks primed for stalemate. Not the best way to initiate a new constitutional conversation.
The Commission on a Bill of Rights consultation on whether we need one (a bill, not the Commission) closes this Friday 11 November.
The consultation document is here: Do we need a UK Bill of Rights. You can respond by email or to the Commission’s address. Our posts on the commission are here and listed below for background – you can also read our existing Bill of Rights, from 1689, here, the Magna Carta here and the Human Rights Act here.
I intend to collate responses and summarise them once the deadline passes, so please feel free to email your responses (ideally as an MS Word document or PDF) to firstname.lastname@example.org .
There is plenty of nonsense out there about the Human Rights Act. For example Emma McClarkin – a member of the European Parliament no less – said on BBC’s Politics Show (at 5:15) that we are “hamstrung by the European Charter of Human Rights”; a charter which does not exist.
There will more of this before the Conservative party conference is over, so let’s go back to basics with a few questions and answers about the Human Rights Act.
As we recently posted, the UK Commission on a Bill of Rights has published its interim advice to Government on reform of the European Court of Human Rights. The Commission made recommendations to achieve the “effective functioning of the Court over the long term”, following which Joshua Rozenberg stated that “everybody now agrees on the need for fundamental reform. It has to happen. And it will.”
But if there is such agreement, can the Commission’s recommendations produce any meaningful reform? Or do the proposals simply rehash old ideas?
It is already clear that the Commission has its work cut out because of the strong opposing views of its membership. After the publication of its initial consultation document, one of the Commission’s members, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky instantly said “I strongly regret the terms in which it has been presented.” Now the Commission’s chairman has had to publish a letter alongside its advice so that the views of one member (is it Pinto-Duschinsky again?), that there should be some form of “democratic override” of the court’s decisions, could be incorporated despite them not being agreed to by the other members.
The consultation document is here and reproduced below. You have until 11 November 2011 to respond and you can do so via email or post.
The document provides a useful and fairly noncontroversial summary of rights protections as they currently exist within the UK constitutional structure. It does not, however, provide any information at all about what a “bill of rights” might entail or how such instruments work in other countries: contrast the far more detailed (and very useful) document produced in 2010 by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Members of the UK Bill of Rights Commission, an independent body asked by the government to investigate the case for a UK Bill of Rights, has been giving evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee (transcripts here: part 1, part 2). The sessions give an interesting if predictable insight into the likely discussions between the Commission’s members.
The group has made slow progress so far, and little is known about how it will operate, save that any proposed bill must “incorporate.. and build.. on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights“. It is under no great time pressure, having been asked to report by the end of 2012. It is comprised of 9 people, mostly Queen’s Counsel and not all of whom are human rights experts. It also has a website, which provides little information beyond the dates of meetings. Given the importance of the process and lack of information so far, the evidence sessions are of interest.
The much trumpeted commission on a UK Bill of Rights has been launched by the Ministry of Justice. It is pretty much as was leaked last week, although it will now have 8 rather than 6 experts chaired by Sir Leigh Lewis, a former Permanent Secretary to the Department of Work and Pensions.
The commission is to report by the end of 2012. Its members, described as “human rights experts”. Are they? The roll call, made up mostly of barristers, is:
Lester and Kennedy are both well-known human rights experts. Howe has long-standing proponent of replacing of the Human Rights Act with a bill of rights.
According to The Sun, which says the “probe on how to tackle power-crazy Euro judges is being held up by bickering Tories and Lib Dems“, the 7-strong commission will also include another Liberal Democrat nominee (in addition to Lester), two more members appointed by the Tories and a senior Ministry of Justice civil servant. It will have to report by December 2012.
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