Work of the Committee in 2008-09 - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


1  Overview

Introduction

2. This is the third annual report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights,[1] in which we set out our activities during the 2008-09 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. With this report we are publishing the transcripts of the oral evidence we heard from the Secretary of State for Justice and the Human Rights Minister on 20 January and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on 24 February to follow up our report on a Bill of Rights for the UK as well as a number of written submissions which have not been previously printed.

Our remit and core tasks

3. 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 both Houses 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 (ECHR). Remedial orders have been brought forward infrequently and there were none for us to consider in 2008-09.

4. 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 sets 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Task 1: To examine policy proposals from the UK Government and the European Commission in Green Papers, White Papers, draft Guidance etc, and to inquire further where the Committee considers it appropriate.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 (EHRC) and other human rights institutions
Task 8: To scrutinise major appointments made by the department. Relevant only in relation to the EHRC
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

5. 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, in common with most Lords select committees, we frequently consider issues which cut across departmental boundaries; and
  • 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 proposals on the retention, use and destruction of biometric samples has involved both legislative scrutiny and scrutiny of the Government's response to an adverse decision of the European Court of Human Rights. Nevertheless, the distinction between these types of work is useful in understanding the way in which we undertake our scrutiny of the Government.

6. 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 EHRC.

7. Table 2 shows the main issues we have considered across all the different strands of our work in 2008-09, illustrating the considerable breadth of our activity.Table 2: JCHR activity in 2008-09, by theme
SubjectActivity Outcome
Adults with learning disabilities Follow up of previous inquiry Debate in Westminster Hall, March
Asylum seekers, treatment of Follow up of previous inquiry and legislative scrutiny Legislative scrutiny reports, March, April
Business and human rights Thematic inquiryMini-conference, February; oral evidence, June and July; report in preparation
Children's rightsThematic inquiry and legislative scrutiny Report, November. Also legislative scrutiny reports, March, April, November
Coastal path, right of appeal Legislative scrutiny Reports, April, August
Coroners and inquests Legislative scrutinyReports, March, May
Court judgments finding breaches of human rights Ongoing scrutinyReport in preparation
Counter-terrorism policy Ongoing scrutinyReports, February and June
Criminal justice matters Legislative scrutiny Reports, March, April
Data protectionLegislative scrutiny Reports, March, April
Disabled Rights Convention Scrutiny of UN human rights instrument Reports, January and April
Discrimination law Legislative scrutinyReport, November
Electoral Commission, powers Legislative scrutiny Report, February
Equality and Human Rights Commission Ongoing scrutinyOral evidence, October and November; report in preparation
Freedom of expression and religion Legislative scrutiny Report, April
Gangs injunctionsLegislative scrutiny Reports, April
Genocide and torture (UK legislation) Thematic inquiryReport, August
Health and social care Legislative scrutinyReport, April
Human rights policy Ongoing scrutinyOral evidence, January
Human traffickingFollow up of previous inquiry Correspondence
Immigration and citizenship Legislative scrutiny Report, March
Meaning of public authority under the Human Rights Act Follow up of previous inquiry Oral evidence, January; correspondence
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Ongoing scrutinyOral evidence, February
Parliamentary standards Legislative scrutiny Report, June
Policing and Protest Thematic inquiryReports, March, April and July
Policing (general) Legislative scrutinyReport, April
Prisoner transfer treaty with Libya Scrutiny of treaty Report, April
Sexual offencesLegislative scrutiny Report, April
Taxation, retrospective Legislative scrutiny Report, July; correspondence
UK Bill of RightsFollow up of previous inquiry Report, January; oral evidence, January and February; mini-conference, April
UN Convention Against Torture Follow up of previous inquiry Report, August
Welfare reformLegislative scrutiny Report, April

8.

9. Table 3 shows the core tasks relevant to each inquiry or activity undertaken during the year.
Table 3: JCHR activity in 2008-09, 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
Business and human rights
X
X
Children's rights
X
X
Court judgments finding breaches of human rights
X
X
Counter-terrorism policy
X
X
Disability Rights Convention
X
X
X
X
Genocide and torture (UK legislation)
X
X
X
Human rights policy/work of EHRC
X
Legislative scrutiny
X
X
X
X
Policing and protest
X
X
X
Prisoner transfer treaty with Libya
X
UK Bill of Rights
X
X
X
UN Convention Against Torture
X

10.

11. The remainder of this report deals in more detail with our work in 2008-09, drawing out some of the 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 outline the work we intend to do before the general election.

12. More detailed information about the Committee and our work in 2008-09 can be found in annex 1.


1   Last year's report was Second Report of 2008-09, The Work of the Committee in 2007-08, HL Paper 10, HC 92, (hereafter 2007-08 report) published on 26 January 2009. The Government Reply was published as part of the Seventeenth Report of 2008-09, Government replies to the Second, Fourth, Eighth, Ninth and Twelfth reports of Session 2008-09, HL Paper 104, HC 592, Ev pp37-38 (hereafter 17th report). Back

2   The session ran from 3 December 2008 to 17 November 2009. Back

3   For more on the core tasks see Liaison Committee, First Report of 2008-09, The work of committees in 2008-09, HC 291. Back

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


 
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