Joint Committee On Human Rights Third Report


The Joint Committee on Human Rights examines every Bill presented to Parliament. With Government Bills its starting point is the statement made by the Minister under section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 in respect of its compliance with Convention rights as defined in that Act. However, it also has regard to the provisions of other international human rights instruments which bind the UK.

The Committee does not in general publish separate reports on each Bill which raises human rights questions, but publishes regular progress reports on its scrutiny of Bills, setting out any initial concerns it has about Bills it has examined and, subsequently, the Government's responses to these concerns and any further observations it may have on these responses. The aim is to complete the cycle of consideration of a Bill before its second reading in the second House.

This report is the first scrutiny of Bills progress report from the Committee of the 2003-04 Session. It draws the special attention of each House to two Government Bills, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill and the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill (sections 1 and 2). It also lists a number of public and private Bills which, in the Committee's view, do not need to be drawn to the attention of either House on human rights grounds at this time (sections 3 to 5).

In respect of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill

The Committee draws attention to:

— the attempt in clause 10 of the Bill to restrict the remedies for violations of Convention rights which would normally be available under section 7 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (paragraphs1.23 to 1.28);

— the questionable nature of the presumption in clauses 11 and 12 of the Bill that certain countries can always be regarded as "safe countries" in relation to the Refugee Convention or rights under the ECHR, either generally or for particular purposes (paragraphs 1.29 to 1.33);

— a number of other human rights issues relating to clauses 2, 6, 7, 8, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 20 of the Bill (paragraphs 1.5 to 1.21).

A copy of the letter from the Chair of the Committee to the Home Secretary setting out the questions the Committee has raised with the Government is appended to the Report.

In respect of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill

The Committee draws attention to:

— the effect of clause 5(1) and (2) of the Bill, relating to inferences of guilt from a defendant's failure to give evidence, on the right to a fair hearing under ECHR Article 6 (paragraph 2.8);

— the effect on the right to liberty under ECHR Article 5 of clause 7 of the Bill, extending powers of arrest without warrant to the offence of common assault (paragraph 2.11);

— the importance of ensuring that any code of practice on victims and witnesses, proposed by clauses 13 to 15 of the Bill, would not interfere with the right to a fair hearing under ECHR Article 6 (paragraphs 2.13 and 2.14);

— the effect of clause 23 of the Bill, allowing information to be disclosed for certain purposes without it being a breach of any restriction on disclosure other than one imposed by the Data Protection Act 1998, on the obligation of public authorities under section 6(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 to respect private and family life and correspondence under ECHR Article 8 (paragraphs 2.15 to 2.19).

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Prepared 26 January 2004