Joint Committee on Human Rights Written Evidence

36.  Letter from the Chairman to the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Ministry of Justice


  Thank you to you and Michael Wills for giving evidence to the JCHR on 21 May in our inquiry into a Bill of Rights. I am writing to follow up on a number of issues, including a few questions that we were not able to cover in the time available, and would be very grateful if you could answer the questions below.

  In evidence, you both talked of the relationship between rights and responsibilities or duties.

1.   Will these responsibilities be enforceable in any way against individuals?

  Towards the end of the evidence session, you touched on the relationship between a Bill of Rights and international human rights treaties to which the UK is already a party and told us that the Government would consider their incorporation on a case by case basis but that there were problems with incorporation and enforceability.

2.   What will be the relationship between any British Bill of Rights and the international human rights treaties to which the UK is a party? For example, would you expect it to include a provision similar to s. 3 of the Human Rights Act, requiring it to be interpreted compatibly with the UK's international human rights obligations, or a similar provision to s. 2 of the Human Rights Act, requiring courts to take into account other international and regional human rights standards when interpreting the Bill of Rights?

  You spoke of the need for a general debate on a Bill of Rights and touched on the process that you envisage.

3.   Can you provide any further information on what the consultation process will entail?

4.   What dedicated financial and human resources are available for the process?

5.   What is the timetable for the consultation process on a Bill of Rights?

  In his letter to the Committee, Michael Wills wrote of the need to engage with harder-to-reach constituencies.

6.   How will you ensure that the process does not simply involve "the usual suspects" but is relevant to and involves members of the public (including harder to reach constituencies)?

7.   What will be done to inform people about the process so that they can contribute in a meaningful way?

8.   Will the consultation only cover the content of a Bill of Rights, or will it be concerned also with enforceability, justiciability and implementation?

  In your evidence, you spoke of the Government's desire for political consensus, although not necessarily unanimity.

9.   What degree of consensus will you be looking for and how will you ascertain whether there is such consensus?

  When you were referred, in evidence, to the independent Northern Ireland Bill of Rights Forum, you said that you do not consider that this is an appropriate model for a UK Bill of Rights and that the Government has to take the lead.

10.   Do you propose that there will be a role for any body, independent of Government, in considering the range of options for a Bill of Rights and making recommendations?

11.   What role, if any, do you envisage for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in this process?

  In your speeches, you and Michael Wills have both stressed that Parliament must remain at the heart of governance of this country.

12.   Do you see any ways to strengthen the role given to Parliament in a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, compared to the Human Rights Act? For example, should the Bill provide for a power of legislative override by Parliament, such as that contained in the Canadian Charter? Should it go beyond s. 19 of the Human Rights Act by requiring that reasoned statements of compatibility accompany every Bill, as does the Victorian Charter of Rights and Responsibilities? Should it require the relevant Minister to lay before Parliament, within a prescribed time, a detailed written response to a judicial declaration of incompatibility with the Bill (as also required by the Victorian Charter)?

  In your evidence to the House of Commons Justice Committee last week, you said that "expectations that the new system of appointing judges would lead to a more diverse judiciary have so far not been fulfilled."

13.   How important is a diverse judiciary to the success of any British Bill of Rights?

14.   How could the pool of people from whom judicial appointments are currently made be widened in practice?

  We have received evidence on the devolution context in both Northern Ireland and Scotland. Little consideration seems to have been given by the Government to the issue of devolution: it was almost entirely absent from the Governance of Britain Green Paper. During our evidence session in Scotland (10 March 2008), we were told by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice that there had been no real discussion with the Scottish Government about the Bill of Rights.

15.   Can you confirm that the UK Government had no discussions with the Scottish Government about the Bill of Rights prior to 10 March 2008?

16.   What discussions have the UK Government had since March 2008 with the Scottish Government about the Bill of Rights?

17.   How does the UK Government plan to involve the devolved assemblies (Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) in future discussions on a Bill of Rights?

18.   Do you foresee any problems with having a national Bill of Rights alongside separate Bills of Rights for Northern Ireland and Scotland?

19.   How would this work in practice?

  I would be grateful if you could reply by 10 June 2008 and if an electronic copy of your reply, in Word, could be emailed to

27 May 2008

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