Joint Committee On Human Rights Twenty-Second Report


The Joint Committee on Human Rights examines Bills presented to Parliament in order to report on their human rights implications. 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 compliance with Convention rights as defined in that Act. However, it also has regard to the provisions of other international human rights instruments to which the UK is a signatory.

The Committee 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. From time to time the Committee also publishes separate reports on individual Bills.

In this Report the Committee comments for the first time on human rights issues arising from the Armed Forces Bill. The Committee is seeking further information on a number of points in correspondence with the Government. In this Report the Committee also lists those Government Bills which have received Royal Assent this Session on which it has not reported, and does not intend to report.

Armed Forces Bill

The main issue considered by the Committee, after consideration of the relevant case law, is whether the single Court Martial system covering the three services established by the Bill is compatible with Article 6(1) ECHR (right to a fair trial). In this respect the Committee draws the following matters to the attention of both Houses—

·  the fact that it is not stated on the face of the Bill that the Judge Advocate who will preside over a Court Martial will be a civilian, considered by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Grieves v UK to be a significant guarantee of independence (paragraph 1.25)

  • the lack of confirmation that briefing notes emphasising the importance of impartiality will be made available to members of a Court Martial (paragraph 1.30)

  • the fact that it is not stated on the face of the Bill that performance during a Court Martial should be excluded from procedures for reporting on participants (paragraph 1.34).

Other matters on which the Committee is seeking clarification from the Government are—

  • the meaning of certain terms used in relation to offences imposed by the Bill (paragraph 1.39)

  • the justification for the wide-ranging restriction on freedom of expression imposed by clause 2(5) of the Bill (paragraph 1.42)

  • the justification in relation to Article 11 ECHR (freedom of assembly and association) for restrictions on members of the armed forces in terms of trade union membership (paragraph 1.41)

  • the compatibility with Article 6(1) ECHR of the inability of those accused of an offence under clause 3 (Obstructing operations) or clause 8 (Desertion) to argue against the legality of the relevant service or operations (paragraph 1.48)

  • justification of the difference between the initial pre-charge detention period for civilians of 36 hours under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and that of 48 hours under the Bill (paragraph 1.66)

  • whether it is intended that inquests will be held into every violent and unnatural death of a serving soldier, as recommended by the Blake Report, and whether this will be stated on the face of the Bill (paragraph 1.83)

  • the justification for imposing random drug and alcohol testing on soldiers without the need for consent (paragraph 1.112).

In addition the Committee draw to the attention of both Houses the fact that whether the practice and procedure of summary hearings and the Court Martial after the bringing of charges complies with the requirement under Article 6 ECHR will depend on the content of secondary legislation made under the Bill (paragraph 1.60).

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Prepared 21 July 2006