Joint Committee On Human Rights Twenty-Third Report


In this Report, the Committee sets out how it intends to fulfil, over the remainder of this Parliament, its terms of reference to consider "matters relating to human rights in the United Kingdom (but excluding consideration of individual cases)".

The Committee appointed a specialist adviser, Francesca Klug, Professorial Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the LSE, to assist it in its examination of its working practices. Professor Klug reported her findings to the Committee in early July, and after consideration of her report, which is published as an Appendix to this one, the Committee has decided to model its future working practices on one of the three options which she presented to it, with some modifications and elaborations.

In this Report the Committee accordingly sets out a strategic declaration of intent for the way in which it will carry out its work for the remainder of this Parliament.

The Committee intends to maintain its predecessors' undertaking to scrutinise all Government and private bills introduced into Parliament for their human rights implications. It will seek however to focus its scrutiny on the most significant human rights issues raised by bills in order to enhance its ability to alert both Houses to them in a timely way. To this end it will implement a new sifting procedure, to be carried out by its Legal Adviser under the Chairman's delegated authority according to certain criteria to establish the significance of human rights issues raised by a bill. This procedure is set out in detail in paragraphs 27 to 49 of the Report, and summarised in the flowchart annexed to it. The Committee's Reports on bills will be shorter and more focused, and the Committee intends more regularly to reach a view on issues of proportionality which may arise (paragraph 47). The Committee will scrutinise private Members' bills only on an ad hoc basis, and normally only if they both raise issues of major human rights significance and appear likely to become law (paragraph 26). The Committee also re-emphasises the importance of a substantial improvement in the quality and consistency of the information which the Government provides to Parliament on the human rights implications of bills at the time of their introduction (paragraph 41).

With the reduction in the Committee's overall work on legislative scrutiny brought about by this sifting process, the Committee intends to expand other areas of its work. These will include—

  • more pre-legislative scrutiny work, in order to draw the attention of Parliament and the Government to any potential pitfalls in relation to a proposed policy course (paragraphs 55 and 56)
  • more post-legislative scrutiny work, to assess whether the implementation of legislation has produced unwelcome human rights implications (paragraph 57)
  • a development of work on monitoring declarations of incompatibility made by UK courts and on implementation of Strasbourg judgments against the UK finding a breach of human rights (paragraphs 58 to 63)
  • continuation of scrutiny of UK compliance with UN human rights treaties, but not necessarily by binding the Committee's work to the Concluding Observations issued by the UN treaty bodies (paragraphs 64 to 67)
  • continuation of scrutiny of human rights treaties entered into by the UK before they are ratified, if they raise any significant issues of which Parliament should be made aware (paragraph 68)
  • introduction of categories of inquiry work on major unexpected developments and significant human rights issues of national concern, seeking to inquire into subjects where the Committee can make an important and useful contribution to parliamentary and public debate, along with a continuation of work on thematic inquiries such as the previous Committee's inquiry into deaths in custody (paragraphs 69 to 72)
  • continuation and development of work on the implementation of the Human Rights Act, including the holding of regular evidence sessions with the Human Rights Minister, and the continuation of interest in the work of human rights institutions with in the UK, including primarily the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.

In its scrutiny work the Committee will also seek, where appropriate, to place its examination of bills or other documents such as Green and White Papers within a wider policy context (paragraph 51).

The Committee recognizes that in its inquiry work it will need to be rigorous in asking itself whether by intervening in a particular debate it can genuinely add value by virtue of its expertise in human rights and the nature of the investigations it can conduct (paragraph 71).

In organising its work, the Committee will not accord priority to any type of work over others, while noting that its legislative scrutiny work, because of its continuous nature and the fact that it only has value insofar as it is achieved in good time to inform particular parliamentary debates, falls into a rather different category from other work (paragraph 77).

Finally the Committee notes that it will need to make choices and prioritise in the course of its work (paragraph 78), and that, although it recognizes that it will not be possible for it to pursue all its proposed strands of work simultaneously, and possibly not even over the course of one parliamentary Session, it fully intends to explore the full range of work involved over the remainder of the Parliament as a whole (paragraph 79).

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Prepared 4 August 2006