Joint Committee On Human Rights Third Report


1. Letter from the Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon The Lord Irvine of Lairg,

to the Chairman


You will recall that we undertook to look at our guidance on statements of compatibility section 19 of the Human Rights Act, to see if it would be possible to be more forthcoming about the human rights issues which Ministers believe have been raised by a Bill.

I am pleased to be able to enclose revised guidance on section 19 statements which is being circulated to Departments. This was announced to the House on 18 December by means of a written answer.

A statement about compatibility is, of course, only a starting point and it will not replace the need for scrutiny and debate. But I hope it will be a step forward which will help us identify at the early stages of a Bill what are the priorities in human rights terms.

26 December 2001


To replace paragraph 39 of the Human Rights Act Guidance for Departments (second edition):

(1)  The Government has undertaken to provide, in the Explanatory Notes, specific information on the human rights aspects of Government Bills. The purpose of the undertaking is to assist Parliament, both in debates on Bills and through the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

(2)  The Explanatory Notes should therefore not only record the fact that a section 19 statement has been made, but also briefly draw attention to the main Convention issues in the Bill.

(3)  The Notes should describe, in general terms, the most significant Convention issues thought to arise on the Bill, together with the Minister's conclusions on compatibility. In some cases, it may be sufficient simply to state that an issue has been considered, and that a particular conclusion has been reached: for example, the Notes might record the Minister's conclusion that a provision should not be regarded, for the purpose of Article 6, as imposing a criminal charge. In other cases, Departments may refer to the policy justification for what is proposed, which will be central to any assessment of whether, for example, a possible interference with an Article 8(1) right is justified under Article 8(2). Departments are not expected to list every human rights point which could be taken on the Bill, or to cite case-law supporting the Minister's conclusion on compatibility. Legal advice should not be disclosed.

(4)  For many Bills, this information will most conveniently be contained in a single passage in the introductory section of the Notes. For longer Bills, or for those covering several different subjects, a series of passages at the beginning at each part of the Notes may be more suitable. If the Notes contain factual information or policy analysis relevant to the human rights issues being discussed, the passage on compatibility might usefully contain cross-references.

(5)  When a compatibility issue is raised in debate, Parliament will continue to expect a detailed response, going beyond what is said in the Notes. In accordance with established practice, Ministers will wish to be as forthcoming as they can in meeting that expectation whilst abstaining from disclosing legal advice. In this way Parliament will be able to take the Convention rights into account as an integral part of normal debate.

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