Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

1.  Letter to the Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury


  I am writing on behalf of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to seek clarification of the Government's intentions in relation to the Human Rights Act following recent comments by you and other Ministers that it would be desirable to give consideration to amending the Act, primarily to seek to ensure that considerations of public safety and protection are given greater weight by decision-makers and courts. As the Committee charged by both Houses of Parliament with considering matters relating to human rights in the UK, this is an issue which is of great importance and interest to us. We think it is essential that proposals of this kind are subject to close examination to ensure that they are based on supporting evidence, and would therefore be grateful for a fuller explanation of the Government's reasons for considering that the Act may require amending.

  We have noted your comments in your 23 June speech on the criminal justice system, in which you described repeal of the Human Rights Act as a "false solution" but said that there were issues under examination by Government to do with the way the Act is interpreted and its case-law. As we understand it, there have been three recent developments which the Government has put forward as demonstrating a need to consider amending the Human Rights Act:

    —  the High Court judgment of 10 May overturning the Home Secretary's decision that it was not appropriate to grant discretionary leave to enter the UK to nine Afghani nationals who arrived in the UK on 7 February 2000 having hijacked an aircraft on an internal flight in Afghanistan in order to flee from the Taliban regime;

    —  the report published on the same day by HM Chief Inspector of Probation of his review of the case of Anthony Rice, who murdered Naomi Bryant following his release from prison on licence; and

    —  the Government's own proposals to introduce an automatic presumption of deportation of foreign prisoners.

  In relation to the case of the Afghani hijackers, we note the original factual findings of the panel of Immigration Adjudicators on 8 June 2004 that the nine individuals would be targeted for assassination by the Taliban if returned to Afghanistan and that there would be insufficient protection for them there against that risk if they were returned, findings which led the panel to uphold the individuals' claim for humanitarian protection under Article 3 of the ECHR. We also note that the Immigration Appeal Tribunal refused the Home Secretary permission to challenge those findings, and that the Home Secretary did not apply for judicial review of that decision. We would be grateful to know whether or not, since deciding not to challenge the Adjudicators' findings in the High Court, the Government has come into the possession of any new evidence which would contradict those findings. We would also be grateful to know whether the Government still accepts, as it did at the hearing before the Immigration Adjudicators, that there are no reasonable grounds for regarding any of the individuals as a danger to the security of the UK, or as constituting a danger to the community of the UK.

  In relation to the report by Andrew Bridges on the Anthony Rice case, we would be grateful for further information on the Government's reasons for considering that this report demonstrates that the Human Rights Act, or interpretation of that Act by decision-makers, was responsible for any of the cumulative misjudgments throughout the process leading up to and following Anthony Rice's release on licence. If the Government considers that there is anything in the Human Rights Act or domestic or Convention case-law which prevents decision-makers from striking a proper balance between the human rights of an individual prisoner and public safety considerations when deciding on whether or not to release prisoners on licence we would be grateful to receive an explanation of what this is.

  In relation to proposals to change the system governing the deportation of foreign prisoners, we have already written to the Home Secretary to ask him, when he produces his consultation paper on the proposals, to provide us with evidence on why any interference with Convention rights which could arise, in particular from the introduction of a presumption of deportation, would be justified. For the present we would be grateful for any evidence the Government is able to provide to us which would show that the Human Rights Act or its interpretation by decision-makers, as opposed to administrative error, has been responsible for the failure to consider whether foreign prisoners should be deported on their release in a substantial number of cases.

  In addition to the specific information requested on the three cases above, we would of course welcome any other information about them, or indeed other matters, which you consider bears on the question of whether there is a need to consider amending the Human Rights Act, including the Government's reasons for considering that the Act and the ECHR, or their interpretation by UK courts and decision-makers, do not permit a proper balance to be struck between the human rights of individuals and public safety, as referred to by Baroness Ashton of Upholland on 8 June (columns 1132-1136 House of Lords Official Report).

  Finally, it would be helpful for us to know precisely how the Government is currently taking forward consideration of whether the Act should be amended or legislation might be introduced to address the alleged problem of UK court rulings which are not consistent with other EU countries' interpretations of the ECHR. We would therefore like to know what work is currently being conducted on these matters within Government, including the nature and terms of reference of any internal reviews of the subject such as those which we understand you have asked the Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor to undertake, and an indication of when announcements might be made and any legislation might be brought forward.

  In seeking these clarifications, in no way is my Committee making any suggestion at this stage that the Human Rights Act should or should not be amended. Nor would we wish this letter to be construed as support for or criticism of existing human rights legislation.

  My Committee would be most grateful to receive your response to this letter by 14 July.

27 June 2006

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