The Work of the Committee in 2007-08 - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

1  Overview


1. This is the second annual report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights,[1] in which we set out our activities during the 2007-08 parliamentary session.[2] We also highlight areas in which the Government has enhanced human rights during the year as well as areas of concern, and comment on our working practices, which continue to evolve. In addition, we are publishing with this Report the oral evidence we heard from the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission on 14 October and from the Home Secretary on 28 October, memoranda associated with that evidence, and other papers we received during the session but have not published elsewhere.

Our remit and the core tasks

2. The Joint Committee on Human Rights is comprised of twelve Members, drawn equally from the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Our remit is broad: "to consider matters relating to human rights in the UK", although we are unable to deal with individual cases. We are also required to report to the House in relation to remedial orders (as well as proposals for remedial orders and draft remedial orders), which are statutory instruments made under the Human Rights Act 1998 in order to deal with legislative provisions which the courts have ruled to be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Remedial orders have been brought forward infrequently and there were none for us to consider in 2007-08.

3. As a joint committee, with a remit which cuts across the responsibilities of all Government departments, we do not have a specific department to hold to account in terms of service delivery or expenditure. As a consequence, not all of the core tasks first elaborated by the Commons Liaison Committee in 2002 are relevant to our work.[3] The relevance of specific core tasks to our work is set out in Table 1.Table 1: JCHR and the core tasks set out by the Commons Liaison Committee
Task 1: To examine policy proposals from the UK Government and the European Commission in Green Papers, White Papers, draft Guidance etc, and to inquire further where the Committee considers it appropriate. Relevant
Task 2: To identify and examine areas of emerging policy, or where existing policy is deficient, and make proposals. Relevant
Task 3: To conduct scrutiny of any published draft bill within the Committee's responsibilities. Relevant
Task 4: To examine specific output from the department expressed in documents or other decisions. Relevant
Task 5: To examine the expenditure plans and out-turn of the department, its agencies and principal NDPBs. Not relevant
Task 6: To examine the department's Public Service Agreements, the associated targets and the statistical measurements employed, and report if appropriate. Not relevant
Task 7: To monitor the work of the department's Executive Agencies, NDPBs, regulators and other associated public bodies. Relevant only in relation to Human Rights Division of the Ministry of Justice, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and other human rights institutions
Task 8: To scrutinise major appointments made by the department. Relevant only in relation to the Equality and Human Rights Commission
Task 9: To examine the implementation of legislation and major policy initiatives. Relevant
Task 10: To produce reports which are suitable for debate in the House, including Westminster Hall, or debate in committees. Relevant

Overview of our work

4. Our work can broadly be divided into three distinct categories:[4]

  • Legislative scrutiny: the scrutiny of Government Bills, in particular, as well as other bills, draft bills, statutory instruments, consultation documents and other legislative proposals for compatibility with human rights;
  • Thematic inquiries: inquiries into issues relating to human rights in the UK, similar to the inquiries undertaken by departmental select committees in the Commons except that we frequently consider issues which cut across departmental boundaries;
  • Scrutiny of Government responses to adverse judgments by the European Court of Human Rights and declarations of incompatibility by the UK courts: we monitor, and periodically report on, the action arising from all relevant court cases, including those which lead to remedial orders, as mentioned above.

These strands of work are closely inter-related. For example, our scrutiny of the Government's counter-terrorism proposals has involved both thematic investigation and the scrutiny of specific legislative provisions. We have also raised adverse Strasbourg judgments in the context of our legislative scrutiny work. Nevertheless, the distinction between these types of work is useful in understanding the way in which we undertake our scrutiny of the Government.

5. Further, cross-cutting, aspects to our work concern consideration of the international human rights instruments to which the UK is a signatory, including the extent to which the UK meets its international obligations under those instruments, and scrutinising new human rights treaties prior to their ratification; the implementation of the Human Rights Act; and the work of the UK's human rights institutions, in particular the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

6. Table 2 shows the main issues we have considered across all the different strands of our work in 2007-08, illustrating the considerable breadth of our activity.Table 2: JCHR activity in 2007-08, by theme
SubjectActivity Outcome
Adults with learning disabilities Thematic inquiryReport, February
Anti-social behaviour Legislative scrutinyReport, January
Bill of RightsThematic inquiry Report, August
BlasphemyLegislative scrutiny Reports, January, March
Child maintenanceLegislative scrutiny Report, December
Children and young people Legislative scrutiny Reports, January, March, May
Counter-terrorism policy Legislative scrutiny and thematic inquiry Reports, December, February, May, June, October; mini-conference, May
Court judgments finding breaches of human rights: Government response Ongoing scrutinyReport, October; debate in House of Lords, November
Criminal justice matters Legislative scrutiny Reports, January, March, July
Data protectionLegislative scrutiny Report, March
Deaths in custodyFollow up of previous inquiry Correspondence
Disability Rights Convention Scrutiny of UN human rights instruments Oral evidence, November; report in preparation
Equality and Human Rights Commission Ongoing scrutinyOral evidence, October
HousingLegislative scrutiny Report, April
Human fertilisation and embryology Legislative scrutiny Report, March
Human rights policy Ongoing scrutinyOral evidence with EHRC, October; correspondence
Human traffickingFollow up of previous inquiry Correspondence; mini-conference, July
Immigration policy and rules Legislative scrutiny Report, January; oral evidence, February and October; correspondence
Industrial action by prison officers Legislative scrutiny Reports, January, March
Meaning of public authority under the Human Rights Act Follow up of previous inquiry Reports, February, March, April; mini-conference, January
Mental healthLegislative scrutiny Report, March
Miscarriages of justice, compensation for Legislative scrutiny Report, January
NHS premises, nuisance or disorder on Legislative scrutiny Report, March
Older people in healthcare Follow up of previous inquiry Reports, February and March; correspondence; mini-conference, October
Policing and protest Thematic inquiryOral evidence ongoing
Pornography, extreme Legislative scrutinyReports, January, March
Public health, protection of Legislative scrutiny Report, March
Secure training centres, use of restraint in Legislative scrutiny Report, March; debate in House of Lords, July
Sex offendersLegislative scrutiny Report, March
Sexual orientation, incitement on grounds of Legislative scrutiny Reports, January and March
Student loansLegislative scrutiny Report, March
Trade union membership Legislative scrutinyReport, April
Travellers and Gypsies Legislative scrutinyReport, April
Treatment of asylum seekers Follow up of previous inquiry Correspondence; debate in Westminster Hall, December; mini-conference, July
UN Convention Against Torture Follow up of previous inquiry Report, July
Violent Offender Orders Legislative scrutiny Reports, January, March

7. Table 3 shows the core tasks relevant to each inquiry or activity undertaken during the year.Table 3: JCHR activity in 2007-08, by core tasks set out by the Commons Liaison Committee
Inquiry/ activity Task 1: examination of policy proposals Task 2: emerging policy Task 3: draft bills Task 4: specific output Tasks 7/8: work of public bodies/major appointments Task 9: implementation of legislation Task 10: debates
Adults with learning disabilities X X
Court judgments finding breaches of human rights X X
Counter-terrorism policy X XX X X
Data protection and human rights X X
Disability Rights Convention X X
Human rights policy/work of EHRC X
Human traffickingX X
Immigration policy and rules X X X
Legislative scrutiny XX X X
Meaning of public authority X X XX
Older people in healthcare X X X
Policing and protest X X
Secure training centres, use of restraint X X
Treatment of asylum seekers X X X
UK Bill of Rights X
UN Convention Against Torture X

8. The remainder of this report deals in more detail with our work in 2007-08, drawing out some of these themes from our legislative scrutiny and illustrating some of the more controversial and innovative aspects of our other work. We also comment on developments in our working practices and indicate some of the issues we intend to scrutinise further during the remainder of the current Parliament.

9. More detailed information about the Committee and our work in 2007-08 can be found in annex 1.

1  Our first annual report was Sixth Report, Session 2007-08, The Work of the Committee in 2007 and the State of Human Rights in the UK, HC270, HL Paper 38. (hereafter 2007 annual report). The Government Reply was published as Eighteenth Report, Session 2007-08, Government Response to the Committee's Sixth Report of Session 2007-08: The Work of the Committee in 2007 and the State of Human Rights in the UK, HC 526, HL Paper 103 (hereafter 2007 annual report: Government reply). Back

2   The session ran from 6 November 2007 to 26 November 2008. There is a little overlap with our annual report for 2007, which covered the calendar year and was agreed by the Committee on 21 January 2008. Back

3   For more on the core tasks see Liaison Committee, Third Report of Session 2007-08, The work of committees in 2007, HC 427. Back

4   For a more detailed breakdown of our work see Twenty-third Report of Session 2005-06, The Committee's Future Working Practices, HC 1575, HL Paper 239, (hereafter Working practices report) part 2. Back

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Prepared 26 January 2009