Joint Committee On Human Rights Fifth Report


The Committee draws to the special attention of both Houses the Government's Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. The Explanatory Notes on its very significant human rights implications were largely helpful, but the Government's response to the Committee's questions was late and we were unable to report in time for Report stage in the House of Commons. There was little opportunity at Report stage in the Commons for scrutiny, especially of Government amendments carrying serious implications for rights and liberties. This report will inform debate on the Second Reading in the House of Lords and the Committee suggests some amendments to give effect to its recommendations (paragraphs 1.1-1.4 and Annex).

It is not always clear if the Government's justification for measures in this Bill is that public safety really is being prejudiced or that public perception needs reassurance. The Committee urges caution (paragraphs 1.5-1.7).

The Committee welcomes in principle the introduction of Youth Rehabilitation Orders, a new community sentence for juvenile offenders. But it expresses concerns on human rights grounds about the legal framework (paragraphs 1.8-1.28).

The Committee has two concerns about proposals relating to criminal appeals: it questions the necessity for restricting the powers of the Court of Appeal to allow an appeal against a conviction and the apparent restriction on the ability of the Court of Appeal to review the safety of convictions. In addition, the Committee recommends that the Bill be amended to allow expressly for the re-opening of criminal proceedings in appropriate cases following a finding by the European Court of Human Rights that there has been a breach of the right to a fair trial (paragraphs 1.29-1.35)

The Committee is concerned that the new Commissioner for Offender Management and Prisons will not be truly independent and recommends amendments (paragraphs 1.36-1.40).

The Committee does not accept that there is any rational connection between limits on compensation for miscarriages of justice and limits on compensation for victims of crime: it recommends that the cap on the amount of compensation for miscarriages of justice be deleted from the Bill (paragraphs 1.41-1.44).

The Committee is concerned by the vagueness of the definition of the new offence of possession of extreme pornographic images (paragraphs 1.45 -1.51).

The Committee welcomes the motivation behind the Bill's provisions on prostitution but is concerned that these measures may in fact lead to the detention of women for up to 72 hours for failing to attend a meeting, and may eventually lead to their imprisonment for failure to comply with the terms of court orders (paragraphs 1.52-1.55).

The Committee welcomes the proposed abolition of the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel (paragraphs 1.56-1.60).

The Committee welcomes the creation of the new offence of stirring up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation and considers it sufficiently narrowly defined to allow appropriate protection of freedom of speech (paragraphs 1.61-1.65).

The Committee welcomes as a clarification of the existing law the new clause on self-defence and the use of force to prevent crime. But it will take up with the Minister human rights concerns arising from the inclusion of "honest belief" as part of the defence (paragraphs 1.66-1.73).

As with, for example, Control Orders, provisions to create new Violent Offender Orders (VOOs) raise human rights concerns over legal certainty, due process and fairness. The Committee expresses reservations and recommends changes (paragraphs 1.74-1.102).

Provisions dealing with Anti-Social Behaviour include new Premises Closure Orders (PCOs) and a new offence of causing nuisance or disturbance on NHS premises. In the Committee's view they both raise human rights concerns. It recommends changes, in particular to ensure that PCOs are proportionate to interferences with Convention rights and to clarify the circumstances in which the new offence will not apply (paragraphs 1.103- 1.122).

On special immigration status, the Committee welcomes the Government's clarification that the Secretary of State's designation of a person under clause 181 would be unlawful if, in the opinion of a court, the effect of designation would breach the UK's obligations under the Refugee Convention but again raises concerns about the statutory construction of the Convention (paragraphs 1.123 to 1.126).

Provisions brought forward as late Government amendments to prohibit industrial action by prison officers raise questions which the Committee plans to pursue with the Minister (paragraphs 1.127-1.131).

The Committee considers that the Government's Pensions Bill does not raise human rights issues of sufficient significance to warrant further scrutiny (paragraph 2.1).

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Prepared 25 January 2008