Joint Committee on Human Rights First Report

A. The Process of Scrutiny by the Committee

1. At our second meeting, on 5 February 2001, we agreed to consider the human rights implications of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which had already begun its Committee Stage in the House of Commons. Our objectives were threefold. First, we interpreted our terms of reference as including a power to examine the impact of legislation and draft legislation on human rights in the United Kingdom. In order to find the working practices which were likely to be most effective for the future, we decided to concentrate initially on a single piece of legislation as a case study. The Criminal Justice and Police Bill touches on sensitive issues of human rights, including freedom of expression, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom of movement, and data protection. It seemed to offer scope for developing and testing techniques for scrutiny. Secondly, the human rights implications appeared to be sufficiently important and varied to justify us in devoting a significant part of our time to the Bill, in the hope that the fruits of that labour could assist each House. Thirdly, the Bill seemed to provide a good vehicle for exploring ways of approaching amendments introduced to Bills during their passage through either House, which would not be covered by the statement made under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 to the effect that, in the Minister's opinion, the Bill as introduced was compatible with Convention rights. We faced severe time constraints. The Committee was not established until January 2001, and met for the first time on 31 January. We are still in the process of developing effective methods of working. The Bill is long and complex, and its quick progress through the House of Commons has left little time for us to examine it. The procedure which we have adopted in relation to this Bill has been somewhat hurried, and we do not regard either the procedure or the form of this Report as necessarily providing a template for our future activities. None the less, we offer this Report on the human rights implications of the Bill in the hope that it will aid parliamentary scrutiny. For convenience, we include in Annex 1 the main provisions of international human rights treaties to which we refer, and in Annex 2 a brief explanation of some key principles, including legal certainty, necessity, proportionality, and aspects of the right to a fair trial.

2. With the Committee's approval, the Chairman wrote to the Home Secretary on 14 February 2001 asking for replies to thirteen questions about the human rights implications of various parts of the Bill, and for information about representations received by the Home Office relating to the Bill's human rights implications. The response[1] was prompt, thorough, and informative, dealing in considerable depth with each question. It should stand as a model for departmental responses to our inquiries in relation to Bills. We record our appreciation of the work of the Ministers and officials who produced the Memorandum at the same time as piloting this complex Bill through its Commons Committee Stage.

3. In the light of the Home Secretary's response, we decided to take up a number of matters with the Minister of State at the Home Office (Mr Charles Clarke MP), in person. We are grateful to the Minister and his team for accepting an invitation to give oral evidence to the Committee on 5 March 2001, at the first public meeting which the Committee held, and for the Minister's helpful and constructive answers to our questions.[2] We were glad to note the careful and serious way in which the Minister and his officials approached the process, which seems to us to indicate the importance which the Home Office attaches to human rights standards.

4. In view of the short time before the Bill's Report Stage in the House of Commons, which was due to take place on 14 March 2001, we decided to make an initial Report[3] making available to each House the evidence which had been given to us, and to take time for reflection before offering our own opinion of the human rights implications of the Bill. In the meantime, we received further written evidence from the Minister[4] in relation to matters raised at our meeting on 5 March. We now offer our considered views.

1   The Memorandum from the Home Secretary (hereafter 'Home Office Memorandum') is reproduced as an appendix to the Committee's First Special Report, Criminal Justice and Police Bill, HL Paper 42, HC 296 of 2000-01 (hereafter 'First Special Report') at pp. 1-13. Back

2   The transcript of the oral evidence is printed in the First Special Report, pp. 52-65. Back

3   The First Special Report (see n. 1, above). Back

4   The further evidence (hereafter 'Home Office Supplementary Memorandum) is printed at pp. 66-72 of the First Special Report. Back

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Prepared 26 April 2001