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

5  Working practices

Recent changes

72. We published a substantial report on our working practices in July 2006 in which we set out changes intended to focus our work on the most significant human rights issues and enable us to undertake a broader range of activity, including more thematic inquiries.[64] We discussed the implementation of these changes at an awayday in November 2007, which was attended by a number of our specialist advisers and representatives from NGOs, and again at our 2008 awayday.[65] Further changes were made to our legislative scrutiny work - such as the introduction of Committee amendments to bills - which were discussed in chapter 3 of this report.[66]

73. Another major change during 2007-08 was the introduction of 'mini-conferences' - short seminars attended by NGOs, specialist advisers and, where possible, Ministers. We have used mini-conferences to follow up our reports (or aspects of them) and held four during the session, as the table below shows.Table 5: JCHR mini-conferences 2007-08
23 JanuaryMeaning of public authority in the Human Rights Act
14 MayCounter-Terrorism policy
9 JulyHealthcare for asylum seekers and trafficking victims
8 OctoberHuman rights of older people in healthcare

74. We intend to discuss our plans for mini-conferences early in the new session and will use them to discuss potential new subjects for inquiry as well as to follow up previous work.

Informal meetings and visits

75. Tables 6 and 7 set out the informal meetings we held during the year (other than mini-conferences) and the visits we undertook.Table 6: JCHR informal meetings, 2007-08
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, 13 November Bill of Rights inquiry
Professor Bill Lewinski, 17 December Deaths in Custody follow up
Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner, 6 February Overview of UK human rights policy
Tajik delegation, 20 May Child welfare issues
Mexico National Human Rights Commission, 24 June Overview of UK human rights policy
Lianne Dalziel MP, Associate Minister of Justice, New Zealand, 7 July Overview of UK human rights policy
Turkmen delegation, 8 July Overview of UK human rights policy
Nepalese delegation, 15 July Overview of UK human rights policy
Victoria Colloby, Yarl's Wood immigrant removal centre, and Alan Hollett, Border and Immigration Agency, 8 October Follow up of treatment of asylum seekers inquiry
Committee awayday, 4 November Review of working practices and possible future work
Marie Staunton and Sarah Cooke, UK representatives on the management board of the EU, Fundamental Rights Agency, 11 November Scrutiny of EU Fundamental Rights Agency
Home Office officials, 11 November Scrutiny of forthcoming immigration bill
Northern Ireland Human Rights Consortium, 20 November Follow up of Bill of Rights inquiry
Immigration Law Practitioners Association, 24 November Scrutiny of forthcoming immigration bill
Table 7: JCHR visits, 2007-08
South Africa, 17-22 November Bill of Rights inquiry
Equality and Human Rights Commission, London, 29 January Scrutiny of EHRC
Vienna, 13-14 Feb (representative capacity) Scrutiny of EU Fundamental Rights Agency
Edinburgh, 9-10 March Bill of Rights inquiry
Strasbourg, 31 March - 1 April (representative capacity) Adverse judgments of the European Court of Human Rights
Stockholm, 8-10 June (representative capacity) Council of Europe human rights colloquy
Brussels, 25 June (representative capacity) Meeting of chairmen of human rights committees in national Parliaments of EU member states
Madrid, Lyon and Paris, 30 June - 3 July Policing and Protest inquiry
Belfast, 26-27 October Bill of Rights and Policing and Protest inquiries
Vienna, 16-17 November Scrutiny of EU Fundamental Rights Agency plus follow up of human trafficking and counter-terrorism inquiries

76. Informal meetings with interested parties, at Westminster or on visits within the UK or abroad, are an essential part of our work. Such meetings serve a number of purposes. Some, such as our meeting with Marie Staunton and Sarah Cooke, prepared us for our visit to the EU Fundamental Rights Agency. Others, particularly meetings on visits, enable us to hear from a broader range of views than is usually possible in oral evidence and offer perspectives which can be difficult or impossible to appreciate from formal written and oral evidence.

77. We are grateful for the assistance we receive in undertaking visits, both in the UK and abroad, from the people and organisations we meet. We particularly appreciate the work undertaken by the parliamentary branch of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the FCO staff in the overseas posts we visited, whose help with our administrative arrangements and in putting together our work programme, as well as support and advice on the ground, were indispensable.

78. Our Chair gave evidence in October to the EHRC's human rights inquiry, chaired by Dame Nuala O'Loan.

Following-up previous work

79. We are committed to following up our thematic inquiries so that our recommendations do not end up languishing on dusty shelves, forgotten by Government. and parliamentarians. We have already alluded to a number of our follow up activities, including debates on our Reports in both Houses, mini-conferences, and correspondence on issues such as human trafficking. In addition, we have recently appointed Lord Bowness to replace Baroness Stern as the Committee's observer on the Forum for the Prevention of Deaths in Custody, a body which was established as a direct result of a JCHR recommendation in 2004.[67] Following a review by Robert Fulton, the Forum will shortly be replaced by a higher level Ministerial Board, on which the JCHR observer will sit.[68]

80. In July we published a report examining discrepancies between the evidence we received during our inquiry into the UN Convention Against Torture in 2006 about whether troops were aware of the prohibition on the use of certain interrogation techniques and the conclusions of the Aitken Report into allegations of torture and inhuman treatment in Iraq, which was published in January 2008.[69] We concluded that the evidence we were given in 2006 by the then Minister for the Armed Forces, Adam Ingram MP, and Lieutenant General Brims, Commander Field Army, was incorrect and that, as a result, we were unable to give a full account to Parliament of the human rights issues relating to the use of such techniques. The issues relating to the death of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi civilian under British military detention, in 2003 are currently subject to a public inquiry and we expect to receive, when that inquiry concludes, an explanation for the discrepancies between the evidence we were given in 2006 and the facts which subsequently emerged.

Relations with government

81. We deal with most Government departments, some - such as the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health and the Home Office - on a frequent basis. In general, we have established good relations with departments. We are appreciative of the depth and quality of the letters and memoranda we usually receive from Government when we raise human rights issues in bills with departments.

82. We do not require the Government to reply to our legislative scrutiny reports, given the timescale in which bills progress through Parliament, but we appreciate those replies we are sent. Departments replied more frequently to legislative scrutiny reports during this session than previously and we published many of the replies we received in one volume in June.[70]

83. The Government is obliged to reply to our other reports and timeliness has been an issue on a number of occasions during 2007-08:

  • First Report of 2006-07 on the Council of Europe Convention on Terrorism, published on 22 January 2007. We received a reply on 13 February 2008, over 10 months late, after we had drawn attention to the delay in our last annual report.
  • Ninth Report of 2006-07 on the Meaning of Public Authority under the Human Rights Act, published on 28 March 2007. In November 2007, the Human Rights Minister said we would receive a reply to this Report "soon".[71] Our 2007 Report on the meaning of public authority under the Human Rights Act included 47 recommendations: although some relate to the debate about how to deal with the implications of the YL judgment, many do not. Although we were promised a reply "soon" in November 2007 - when a response was already six months late - we are still waiting and it is now 19 months late. We recommend that the Ministry of Justice reply to our report forthwith.
  • Sixteenth Report of 2006-07 on monitoring the Government's response to court judgments finding breaches of human rights, published on 28 June 2007. A reply to certain systemic recommendations remains outstanding, 16 months late (see paragraph 68).

84. We recognise that there may be occasions when it is inappropriate to reply to a Committee Report within the two months normally provided for. On such occasions, we require the Government to keep us informed of the reasons for delay and its timetable for replying to the Committee. In the case of our report on a Bill of Rights for the UK, there has been some difficulty in co-ordinating publication of a Government Green Paper on the issue with the provision of a reply to issues not covered in the Green Paper (which was due in October). We welcome the steps taken by the Ministry of Justice to keep us informed of its plans and we look forward to seeing the Green Paper and a reply to our Report in the near future.

Informing Parliament

85. We set out above the parliamentary debates for which our reports were relevant,[72] including the debates on our own reports which we initiated as part of our follow up activity.

86. In addition, our Chair, Andrew Dismore MP, again promoted a Private Members' Bill - the Human Rights Act 1998 (Meaning of Public Authority) Bill - which sought to implement a solution we had recommended to the problem discussed above about the narrowing of the definition of public authority under the Act by a series of judicial decisions. The Bill did not make progress beyond Second Reading.


87. Our main tool for communicating with the public is the Committee's website ( As with other select committees, our reports and oral evidence can be found online. We also publish our correspondence with Government on bills, other documents, and in relation to adverse European Court of Human Rights judgments and declarations of incompatibility. We have used the website to seek submissions from interested parties on the draft legislative programme and on specific bills, publishing a list of bills and issues we are scrutinising at an early stage.

88. We have worked with our select committee media adviser to promote our reports and gained a significant amount of media coverage during the year, especially for our counter-terrorism reports.

89. We have sought to extend our contacts with non-governmental organisations concerned with human rights issues, including private sector organisations, for example by inviting them to the Committee's awayday and mini-conferences. We are grateful for the information and assistance we received from such bodies and would welcome further contact with groups wishing to raise UK human rights issues.

International dimension

90. Lord Dubs represented the Committee at a meeting of chairpersons of parliamentary human rights committees in the EU in Brussels in June. The Earl of Onslow spoke on behalf of the Chair at a Council of Europe colloquy on human rights in Stockholm in June.

91. Our work on adverse European Court of Human Rights judgments has attracted praise from the Council of Europe and we have maintained close links with the Council of Europe, its Parliamentary Assembly and the European Court during the year.

92. We visited the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, as well as UN and OSCE institutions in Vienna in November, to scrutinise their work. We have also sought to promote our work on human trafficking internationally by publishing correspondence with Government on this issue on the EU's anti-human trafficking day (18 October).

64   Working practices reportBack

65   2007 annual report, section 4. Back

66   See paragraphs 47-54. Back

67   Third Report, Session 2004-05, Deaths in Custody, HC137-I, Paper HL 15-I. Back

68   Ministry of Justice, Review of the Forum for Preventing Deaths in Custody, by Robert Fulton, Feb 08. Back

69   Twenty-eighth Report, Session 2007-08, UN Convention against Torture: Discrepancies in Evidence given to the Committee About the Use of Prohibited Interrogation Techniques in Iraq, HC 527, HL Paper 157. Back

70   Twenty-third Report, Session 2007-08, Legislative Scrutiny: Government Replies, HC 755, HL Paper 126. Back

71   Data protection report, Q43. Back

72   See Table 4. Back

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