Legislative Scrutiny: Coroners and Justice Bill - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Bill drawn to the special attention of both Houses: Coroners and Justice Bill

1.  Introduction
Date introduced to first House

Date introduced to second House

Current Bill Number

14 January 2009

Bill 72

1.1 The Coroners and Justice Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 14 January 2009 and had its second reading on 26 January 2009. The Public Bill Committee on the Bill reported on 10 March 2009. The Bill is accompanied by a statement by the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw MP, pursuant to Section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998 that the Bill is compatible with Convention rights. A fuller explanation of the Government's views on compatibility with the ECHR is provided in the Explanatory Notes and we comment on those notes below.[1]


1.2 The first part of the Bill proposes reform of the coroners and death certification system in England and Wales. These reforms follow the publication of a draft Coroners Bill, in June 2006, was produced after recommendations for reform were made by the Shipman inquiry and the Luce review in 2003.[2] The Government explains that these provisions are "part of an overall package of reform aimed at addressing the weaknesses in the present coroner and death certification systems".[3]

1.3 Part 2 proposes a number of amendments to the criminal law. These include changes in respect of partial defences to murder and the offence and defence of infanticide; and changes to the law on assisted suicide. It also proposes a new offence of possession of prohibited images of children and changes to the law of incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation to remove a saving clause inserted by the House of Lords into the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Part 3 of the Bill proposes changes to the law of criminal evidence and procedure. Significant proposals include re-enactment of the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008 with some modifications, the extension of the use of live links in criminal cases and changes in respect of bail in murder cases. The Bill also deals with sentencing, further criminal justice issues and provisions in respect of civil and criminal legal aid. Part 7 proposes a new scheme to enable the courts to deprive convicted persons of profits from the sale of criminal memoirs or from paid speaking engagements or interviews. Part 8 makes wide ranging proposals for the reform of data protection law, including in respect of the powers of Government to open new information sharing gateways in secondary legislation.

Explanatory Notes

1.4 We are pleased to report that the Explanatory Notes accompanying this Bill provide a relatively full account of the Government's view on the Bill's compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Although we disagree with some aspects of the Government's analysis, the Explanatory Notes generally identify relevant issues which may engage Convention rights, apply the correct tests, refer to relevant case-law and briefly present the Government's reasons for concluding that the provisions in the Bill are Convention compatible. We address a few notable exceptions below. We welcome the inclusion of detailed Explanatory Notes on the implications of the Bill for Convention rights and we commend to other Departments the approach taken in relation to this Bill.

Evidence and acknowledgements

1.5 We wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice to raise a number of concerns on 12 February 2009 and 17 February 2009.[4] We received a response from Bridget Prentice MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, on 26 February 2009.[5] We welcome the prompt response provided by the Secretary of State to our request for further information, which has assisted parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill.

1.6 We also invited the Information Commissioner to comment on the issues which we raised in respect of the data sharing provisions in Part 8 of the Bill and received a full response from his office on 27 February 2009.[6] We publish our correspondence with this Report.

1.7 We invited submissions on the Government's draft legislative programme, including in respect of the proposed Coroners and Death Certification Bill, which we indicated would be one of the three Bills which we would prioritise in this session. Following our recent practice, we published our correspondence with the Secretary of State and invited further submissions on the human rights implications of the Bill. We publish the submissions received together with this Report. We welcome the engagement of the public and interested organisations in our legislative scrutiny work.

1.8 We would like to record our particular thanks to Raju Bhatt, of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, our Specialist Adviser for the purposes of Part 1 of the Bill (Coroners Reform).

Significant human rights issues

1.9 There are a number of significant human rights issues that arise in the context of this Bill. These issues are considered, in broad order of significance, below. For the purposes of increasing the accessibility of our Report, we have divided our concerns into six separate chapters:

Effective parliamentary scrutiny

1.10 The Bill contains provisions which were originally expected to be in two separate Bills trailed in the draft legislative programme: the Coroners and Death Certification Bill and the Law Reform, Victims and Witnesses Bill.[7] In addition, it proposes significant changes to data protection law and to the powers of the Information Commissioner.

1.11 The breadth and size of the Bill and the legal complexity and diversity of the topics it covers have been the subject of concern during the Bill's passage through the House of Commons given the limited time provided for scrutiny.[8] We add our voice to those concerns. Large, multi-purpose bills of this sort are almost impossible to scrutinise effectively within the limited timescale provided by the Government. Given the range and significance of the human rights issues raised in this bill, the Government should have introduced two or three separate bills, each of which would have been substantial pieces of legislation in their own right or ensured that there was sufficient time for full pre-legislative and Committee stage scrutiny in the House of Commons. We welcome the fact that two days have been given over for Report stage in the House of Commons, a step not taken in relation to previous Bills of similar size, including the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, which we considered in the last session.

1   Bill 9 - EN, paragraphs 793 - 993. Back

2   Cm 6849, Coroner Reform: The Government's Draft Bill, June 2006.  Back

3   Bill 9 - EN, paragraph 17. Back

4   Ev 1 - 11 Back

5   Ev 11 - 29 Back

6   Ev 32 - 36 Back

7   Cm 7372, The Government's Draft Legislative Programme, May 2008. Back

8   See for example, HC Deb, 26 Jan 2009, Col 66. Back

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