Joint Committee On Human Rights Thirty-Second Report

1  Introduction


1. In May of this year there was widespread questioning, by Ministers, the Opposition and in the media, of whether the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) should be amended or repealed. This questioning arose primarily from three cases which, some argued, showed that the HRA, or the way it was being interpreted, was preventing the Government from ensuring public safety:

2. In light of this public controversy about the HRA, the Prime Minister wrote to the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary, asking them both to conduct reviews of the impact of the HRA.[1] He also asked the Lord Chancellor to "devise a strategy, working with the judiciary, which maintains the effectiveness of the Human Rights Act, and improves the public's confidence in the legislation", and asked the Home Secretary to "consider whether primary legislation should be introduced to address the issue of court rulings which overrule the Government in a way that is inconsistent with other EU countries' interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights".

3. On 18 May we decided to conduct an inquiry into "the case for the Human Rights Act". [2] On 27 June 2006 our Chair wrote to the Prime Minister[3] asking him for further explanation of the Government's thinking in relation to the cases. The Lord Chancellor replied to our letter on 19 July on behalf of the Prime Minister.[4] His reply did not respond to the specific questions in the Chair's original letter to the Prime Minister, but explained the subjects to be covered by the DCA's review of the implementation of the HRA, which was published soon afterwards. [5]

4. The Home Office's parallel review of the impact of the HRA and the ECHR on decision-making in the criminal justice, immigration and asylum systems has not yet been published. The Home Office has, however, published two papers, on rebalancing the criminal justice system[6] and reforming the Immigration and Nationality Directorate,[7] which take forward the conclusions and recommendations arrived at in its review of the HRA. On 9 October 2006 we decided to inquire into the human rights implications of these proposals, along with two other Home Office papers concerning new powers against organised and financial crime[8] and reforming the Prison and Probation Service.[9]

5. The Chair also wrote to the Chief Inspector of Probation, Andrew Bridges, on 11 October 2006 seeking further information on his report on the Anthony Rice case.[10] Mr Bridges responded by letter dated 17 October 2006.[11]

6. Our Chair wrote to the Home Secretary on 16 October 2006 on two points arising, on reported details in the Home Office's as yet unpublished review of instances where the HRA caused difficulties for decision-makers and on the Government's position on the Chahal judgment.[12] Baroness Scotland replied on behalf of the Home Secretary by letter dated 26 October 2006, appending a summary of the Home Office's review of decision-making in the Criminal Justice, Immigration and Asylum Systems.[13]

7. On 30 October we took oral evidence from the Lord Chancellor and Baroness Scotland.[14] Following the session we asked for some additional information to be provided in supplementary memoranda. We have received a memorandum from the Home Office, which we also publish with this Report.[15]

Purpose of this Report

8. The main purpose of this Report is to inform Parliament, in time for the beginning of the new session, about the Government's recent reviews of the Human Rights Act and the substantive proposals which have emerged from those reviews. It reports on the events giving rise to those reviews, which form the essential context for understanding the scope and purpose of the reviews themselves; it considers and comments upon the outcome of those reviews; and it considers those aspects of the Home Office's implementing proposals which seem to us to raise the most significant human rights issues. Finally, the Report reflects on the considerable work remaining to be done in order to embed a "human rights culture" in this country.

1   Letters dated May 2006 from the Prime Minister to the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary. Back

2   As a Committee both we and our predecessor in the last Parliament have always regarded it as an important part of our remit to inquire into and report on significant aspects of the institutional machinery for implementing human rights. Back

3   Appendix 1. Back

4   Appendix 2. Back

5   Review of the Implementation of the Human Rights Act, Department for Constitutional Affairs, July 2006. Back

6   Rebalancing the Criminal Justice System in favour of the law-abiding majority, Home Office, July 2006. Back

7   Fair, effective, transparent and trusted - Rebuilding confidence in our immigration system, Home Office, July 2006. Back

8   New Powers Against Organised and Financial Crime, CM 6875. Back

9   Improving Prison and Probation Services: Public Value Partnerships, Home Office Back

10   Appendix 3. Back

11   Appendix 4. Back

12   Appendix 5. Back

13   Appendix 6 Back

14   All references to this oral evidence in this report are to the uncorrected transcript. Back

15   Appendix 7 Back

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Prepared 14 November 2006