There is an ongoing debate about whether or not there should be a Bill of Rights for the United Kingdom. The Government is committed to considering the need for a Bill of Rights and other political parties have expressed interest in developing one. We intend for our Report to contribute to this debate.
Over the last year, we have considered evidence from a range of witnesses about whether there is a need for a Bill of Rights, who the Bill of Rights should cover, what the Bill should include, whether it should incorporate social and economic rights, how a Bill of Rights would fit in with and affect the relationship between Parliament, the executive and the courts, whether the Bill should refer to responsibilities, and how Government should consult the public about a future Bill. We provide in Annex 1 an outline of what a draft Bill might look like. We intend this practical document to demonstrate the potential simplicity of a Bill of Rights.
We are of the view that the United Kingdom should adopt a Bill of Rights and Freedoms. Our work over the last few years has demonstrated that there are many groups in society, such as older people and adults with learning disabilities, whose human rights are insufficiently protected. We argue that a UK Bill of Rights and Freedoms is desirable in order to provide necessary protection to all, and to marginalised and vulnerable people in particular.
Adopting a Bill of Rights provides a moment when society can define itself. We recommend that a Bill of Rights and Freedoms should set out a shared vision of a desirable future society: it should be aspirational in nature as well as protecting those human rights which already exist. We suggest that a Bill of Rights and Freedoms should give lasting effect to values shared by the people of the United Kingdom: we include liberty, democracy, fairness, civic duty, and the rule of law.
There are some additional rights which we believe should be included in a Bill of Rights and Freedoms: we discuss these in chapters four to six. We recommend for inclusion, amongst others, the right to trial by jury, the right to administrative justice and international human rights as yet not incorporated into UK law. We believe that there is a strong case for a Bill of Rights and Freedoms having detailed rights for children, and we recommend that the public should be consulted about including specific rights for other vulnerable groups. In addition, we argue that there is a strong case for including the right to a healthy and sustainable environment in a Bill of Rights and Freedoms.
One of the biggest controversies in the debate on the Bill of Rights is whether it should include social and economic rights. We believe that there is strong public support for including rights to health, housing and education. Whilst we recognise that there are difficulties in including these rights, particularly in relation to the extent to which the courts could and should make decisions about issues normally determined by politicians, we set out an approach which we believe counters those problems. We suggest that the Bill of Rights and Freedoms should initially include the rights to education, health, housing and an adequate standard of living. Government would have a duty to progress towards realising these rights and would need to report that progress to Parliament. Individuals would not be able to enforce these rights through the courts, but the courts would have a role in reviewing the measures taken by Government.
Adopting a Bill of Rights and Freedoms is a constitutional landmark, and could have a far-reaching impact on the relationship between Parliament, the executive and the courts. We recommend that the Bill of Rights and Freedoms should build on our tradition of parliamentary democracy, and we do not believe that courts should have the power to strike down legislation. A UK Bill of Rights and Freedoms should, as with the Human Rights Act, apply to legislation whenever enacted, unless Parliament decides to pass incompatible legislation, and makes clear its intention to do so.
We acknowledge that a UK Bill of Rights and Freedoms will have to provide for derogating from those rights in times of emergency. We recommend that a Bill of Rights and Freedoms should include parliamentary and judicial safeguards to make clear the conditions which must be satisfied to justify a derogation from rights.
We conclude that rights cannot be contingent on performing duties or responsibilities. We recommend that a Bill of Rights and Freedoms should not include directly enforceable duties. However, we acknowledge that responsibilities are implicit in human rights instruments. On that basis, and to that end we suggest that the language of responsibilities could have a role to play in a Bill of Rights and Freedoms, perhaps in the Preamble to the Bill. Private bodies who are performing public functions must be bound by a Bill of Rights and Freedoms. The Bill would also have an indirect effect on private parties because of the important role courts would play in protecting rights enshrined within the Bill of Rights and Freedoms. We recommend that courts and tribunals should interpret legislation both in a way which is compatible with the Bill of Rights and Freedoms, and which promotes the purpose of the Bill. The courts, as a public body, would also have a duty to act compatibly with, and promote, the rights within the Bill of Rights and Freedoms, which may require them to develop the common law to give a remedy for breach of a protected right or freedom.
The process by which Government consults on a Bill of Rights is vital to achieving public consensus and commitment. We make a number of recommendations to ensure that there is a broad, in depth and independent consultation on the Bill of Rights and Freedoms which gives the public an opportunity to deliberate on the issues. We recommend that the process should last for no more than six months to a year, and suggest a set of guiding principles which should provide the starting point for the consultation process.
We hope that parliamentarians and the wider public continue to engage in the debate about the need for and content of a Bill of Rights and Freedoms.