Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

5.  Letter to the Rt Hon Dr John Reid MP, Secretary of State for the Home Department

  As I hope you are aware, the JCHR has decided to undertake an inquiry into the human rights implications of various Home Office policy proposals with a view to producing a report to inform both Houses of Parliament by the beginning of the 2006-07 Session, during which a number of the proposals are expected to be translated into legislation. This is part of our new approach to human rights scrutiny, which aims to report on Government policy and proposed legislation at an earlier stage than we have achieved in the past by scrutinising bills only once they have been presented.

  We are particularly interested in the human rights implications of Home Office proposals on rebalancing the criminal justice system, reforming the IND, introducing new powers against organised and financial crime, and reforming the Prison and Probation Services. We have been in contact with the Home Office at official level about the possibility of you giving oral evidence to us on these matters in the near future, and we hope it will be possible to agree a date and time soon. In the meantime, it would be very helpful for us if you could respond in writing to us on a couple of points:

    —  According to BBC reports in July, the Home Office's internal review of the implementation of the Human Rights Act had identified 25 examples of the Act causing difficulties for decision-makers. Unlike the DCA's review of the implementation of the Act, the Home Office's review has not been published. We would be grateful to know if this review will be published and, if so, when, as well as for details of the 25 examples apparently identified in the course of the review.

    —  We remain unclear about how the Government's wish to reverse the Chahal judgment can be reconciled with the frequent statements by Ministers that the Government would not be prepared to send somebody back to a country when there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would face a real risk of being tortured or killed. On 25 July you said in the House in reply to me that "It is wildly wrong to suggest . . . that opposition to the Chahal judgment means support either for complicity or for sending people to be tortured; that is an outrageous suggestion" (Hansard 25 July 2006, col 736). As the Chahal judgment only applies in cases where it has first been established that substantial grounds have been shown for believing that a person faces a real risk of torture or death on their return, we cannot see that a reversal of the judgment, allowing the Government to deport on national security grounds despite such a risk, could lead to anything other than an undermining of the absolute prohibition on torture in the ECHR and the UN Convention against Torture. We would be grateful if you would explain why you do not agree with our analysis, if indeed that is the case.

  Assuming we are able to organise an oral evidence session with you in the near future, it would be very helpful for us to have your written response to these two points in advance of that session, and in any event by the end of October.

16 October 2006

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