4 Thematic inquiries and other work|
Core task 1: examination of policy
48. As discussed in the preceding chapter, a central
element of our work is the examination of policy proposals in
Government bills to assess their compatibility with the ECHR and
the UK's international human rights obligations.
UN CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF PERSONS
49. We published two reports during the session on
the Government's proposal to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities, which we strongly supported. In
the first report we recommended that the UK ratify the Convention
without delay and were critical of the lack of transparency of
the process by which the Government was considering reservations.
Our second report considered the four reservations and the interpretive
declaration proposed by the Government. We expressed concern that
the Government's approach to reservations had been unduly cautious
and concluded that two of the reservations were unnecessary. Our
report was agreed four weeks after the Convention was formally
laid before Parliament and was published before relevant debates
in both Houses.
Core task 2: emerging policy
50. Our thematic inquiries have generally dealt with
areas where human rights concerns have not been adequately taken
into account in the development of policy, such as, in previous
years, the treatment of asylum seekers and the human rights of
adults with learning disabilities.
BUSINESS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
51. During this session we looked at business and
human rights, including the role the Government should play in
ensuring that UK businesses respect human rights wherever they
operate. This inquiry also provided an opportunity to follow up
our previous work on the extent to which private sector providers
of public functions are within the scope of the Human Rights Act.
Our report was published in December 2009.
UK BILL OF RIGHTS
52. We followed up our report on a Bill of Rights
for the UK by publishing a short report on the Government's reply
to our work and its Green Paper, in January.
We also took oral evidence on the issue from Jack Straw MP, the
Secretary of State for Justice, and Michael Wills MP, the Human
Rights Minister, and from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission,
and held a conference on the issue.
POLICING AND PROTEST
53. We published two reports on policing and protest.
In the first report, we concluded that, in general, legislation
relating to protest was consistent with the UK's human rights
obligations. One major exception related to protest around Parliament
where we added our voice to the demand for the relevant sections
of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 to be repealed
in favour of amendments to the Public Order Act 1986 which, while
maintaining access to Parliament, would be less restrictive on
protest. The Government accepted our recommendations and we are
currently scrutinising the amendments to the Public Order Act
brought forward in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill.
We drew attention to problems with policing training and practice
and emphasised the need for dialogue between protesters and police
to facilitate protests and minimise conflict.
54. Our second report followed up the Government
reply to our earlier report and also analysed some of the lessons
which could be learnt from the way in which the police handled
the G20 demonstrations in London in April. We examined in detail
the containment tactic used during the G20 protests and which
had been subject to a legal challenge following the May Day demonstrations
in 2001. In our view, this tactic may be legitimately used in
some circumstances to prevent people suspected of causing disorder
from dispersing but it must be used in a proportionate manner
and with due regard to the human rights of the people contained.
We have continued to follow the debate on these matters and plan
to host a mini-conference with the police, HM Inspectorate of
Constabulary and other interested parties in the new year.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
55. We also responded to a letter from the Chairman
of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee for our advice
on human rights matters relating to that Committee's inquiry into
press standards, privacy and libel.
Core task 3: draft bills
56. Our pre-legislative scrutiny work is dealt with
in paragraphs 25-27 above.
Core task 4: specific output
from the department
57. We pay close attention to the work of the human
rights division of the Ministry of Justice and the minister in
that department with responsibility for human rights policy. We
took oral evidence from the Human Rights Minister on 20 January
and, in the current session, on 2 December.
PRISONER TRANSFER TREATY WITH LIBYA
58. We are routinely sent treaties which raise human
rights implications, prior to ratification, and decided to scrutinise
a prisoner transfer treaty with Libya which was laid before Parliament
on 27 January. We raised a number of questions including, for
example, about the treatment, conditions and monitoring of prisoners
transferred to Libya. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State for
Justice refused to agree to defer ratification of the treaty until
we had time to consider his response to our questions and publish
a report. We published the correspondence on 15 April along with
a short report which concluded that "when a select committee
intends to scrutinise a treaty, ratification should be delayed
until the committee's inquiry has concluded".
We will return to this matter in our scrutiny of the Constitutional
Reform and Governance Bill, which will place parliamentary scrutiny
of treaties on a statutory footing.
Core tasks 7 and 8: scrutiny
of relevant public bodies and major appointments
59. Our predecessors in the last Parliament led the
campaign for the establishment of the EHRC and we have taken a
close interest in its work since it was launched in 2007. Concerns
have been expressed in recent months about the leadership and
governance of the Commission and about its work priorities, particularly
in relation to human rights. We are currently inquiring into these
matters and expect to report in the new year.
60. We have also maintained close links with the
Northern Ireland and Scottish Human Rights Commissions. We took
oral evidence from both bodies this year, on a UK Bill of Rights
and business and human rights respectively, and also held an informal
meeting with Professor Alan Miller, the Chair of the Scottish
Core task 9: implementation of
legislation and major policy initiatives
61. Much of our work has been concerned with the
implementation of the ECHR in specific areas or the impact of
particular legislative provisions which have raised human rights
UN CONVENTION AGAINST TORTURE
62. In August we published a report on allegations
that the UK had been complicit in the torture of terrorism suspects
in Pakistan and elsewhere.
This followed up our 2006 report on UK implementation of the UN
Convention against Torture (UNCAT)
and sought to examine the veracity of the allegations and whether,
if true, they indicated that the UK had been complicit in torture
under the terms of Article 4 of UNCAT and the general principles
of State responsibility for internationally wrongful acts. Regrettably,
ministers refused to give oral evidence on this subject and we
devoted a chapter of our report to the "woefully deficient"
system for ministerial accountability for security and intelligence
maters. We returned
to this issue in oral evidence with David Hanson MP, Minister
of State at the Home Office, early in the current session.
63. One issue we pursued was whether the receipt
of intelligence information from a country known to practise torture
amounted to complicity in torture. We concluded that:
If the UK is demonstrated to have a general practice
of passively receiving intelligence information which has or may
have been obtained under torture, that practice is likely to be
in breach of the UK's international law obligation not to render
aid or assistance to other states which are in serious breach
of their obligation not to torture.
In its reply to our report, the Government said "the
receipt of intelligence should not occur where it is known or
believed that receipt would amount to encouragement to the intelligence
services of other states to commit torture".
This formulation of the Government's view, which we had not
previously encountered, does not assuage our concern that the
UK may be in systematic and regular receipt of information obtained
by torture overseas and may, as a result, be "complicit"
in torture as that term is defined in the relevant international
standards. An overseas security agency may well use torture without
being encouraged to do so by the fact that the information thereby
obtained ends up in London. In any event, it is unlikely that
the UK Government would come to know or believe that its receipt
of such information was acting as an encouragement to torture.
64. The main conclusion of our inquiry was that there
should be an independent inquiry into the numerous allegations
of UK complicity in torture. We remain firmly committed to this
65. Our inquiry into children's rights looked at
the extent to which the UK had implemented the UNCRC and focused
on areas on which we had previously reported during the Parliament,
including children in the criminal justice system and asylum-seeking
and trafficked children, and followed up a report on implementation
of the UNCRC by our predecessors.
We welcomed a number of positive developments, such as the Government's
withdrawal of reservations to the UNCRC on immigration and the
detention of children alongside adults, but also expressed concern
where action to implement the Convention is not being taken, such
as with the Government's continuing defence of the criminalisation
of child prostitution.
UK LAW ON GENOCIDE, TORTURE AND
66. In examining UK law on genocide, war crimes,
crimes against humanity, and redress for torture victims, we assessed
whether the patchwork of UK legislation relating to these matters
fully implements relevant international conventions.
We found that there were inconsistencies and gaps in the law which
could allow international criminals to visit and even stay in
the UK without fear of prosecution. The Government amended the
Coroners and Justice Bill to reflect some of our concerns, although
our recommendations aimed at enabling victims of torture overseas
to claim redress from those responsible for their treatment in
the UK court were rejected.
ADVERSE COURT JUDGMENTS
67. Our scrutiny of the Government response to adverse
judgments by the European Court of Human Rights, as well as declarations
of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act by domestic courts,
has continued throughout the session. We expect to publish our
third report on this work, considering the Government response
to specific cases as well as how action to respond to and implement
adverse judgments is co-ordinated across Whitehall, in the new
COUNTER-TERRORISM POLICY AND HUMAN
68. We continued our long-running scrutiny of UK
counter-terrorism policy and human rights by publishing reports
on the annual renewal of control orders legislation and of the
extension of the maximum period of pre-charge detention for terrorism
suspects from 14 to 28 days.
Both of these reports, our fourteenth and fifteenth of the Parliament
on counter-terrorism, were used in debates in both Houses. We
intend to return to the issue of counter-terrorism policy before
the end of the Parliament.
Core task 10: debates in the
69. Occasions on which our reports were listed on
the House of Commons Order Paper as relevant to a debate are set
out in table 4 below.Table
4: House of Commons debates to which JCHR Reports and other material
was 'tagged' to indicate relevance
||JCHR Report etc "tagged"
|9 February||Political Parties and Elections Bill: Consideration
||4th Report 2008-09
|3 March||Motion to approve the draft Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 (Continuance in force of sections 1-9) Order 2009
||5th Report 2008-09
|5 March||Westminster Hall debate on report on adults with learning disabilities
||7th Report 2007-08
|23 and 24 March||Coroners and Justice Bill: Consideration
||8th Report 2008-09
|5 May||Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill: Consideration
||14th Report 2008-09
|19 May||Policing and Crime Bill: Consideration
||10th and 15th Reports 2008-09
|2 June||Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill [Lords]: Second Reading
||9th Report 2008-09
|23 June||Marine and Costal Access Bill [Lords]: Second Reading
||11th Report 2008-09 and correspondence
|25 June||Westminster Hall debate on Bill of Rights report
||29th Report 2007-08
|1 July||Parliamentary Standards Bill: Committee and remaining stages
||19th Report 2008-09
|8 July||Finance Bill: remaining stages
||20th Report 2008-09
|9 July||Motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2009
||18th Report 2008-09
|14 July||Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill [Lords]: Consideration
||9th and 17th Reports 2008-09
|12 October||Health Bill [Lords]: remaining stages
||11th and 14th Reports 2008-09
|3 and 4 November||Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill: Committee
71. As the table shows, our reports on the human
rights of adults with learning disabilities and a UK Bill of Rights
were debated in Westminster Hall during the year.
72. Our reports are frequently listed on the House
of Lords Order Paper as relevant to debate on the stages of bills
and were frequently cited in debate. Our second report on the
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was debated
in Grand Committee in the House of Lords on 28 April, along with
a statutory instrument relating to the ratification of the Convention.
57 First Report, The UN Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities, HL Paper 9, HC 93. Back
Twelfth Report, UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities: Reservations and Interpretative Declaration,
HL Paper 70, HC 397. Back
First Report of session 2009-10, Any of our business? Human
rights and the UK private sector, HL Paper 5-I, HC 64-I. Back
Third Report,A Bill of Rights for the UK? Government Response
to the Committee's Twenty-ninth Report of Session 2007-08,
HL Paper 15, HC 145 (hereafter Bill of Rights Government Response). Back
Ev 1; Ev 18; Ev 32 Back
Seventh Report, Demonstrating respect for rights? A human rights
approach to policing protest, HL Paper 47-I, HC 320-I and
Twenty-second Report, Demonstrating Respect for Rights? Follow-up,
HL Paper 141, HC 522 (hereafter Demonstrating respect for rights
follow up). Back
Ev 32 Back
Thirteenth Report, Prisoner Transfer Treaty with Libya,
HL Paper 71, HC 398. Back
Allegations of Complicity in Torture. Back
Nineteenth Report of Session 2006-07, The UN Convention Against
Torture (UNCAT), HL Paper 185-I, HC 701-I, particularly paragraphs
Allegations of Complicity in Torture, paragraph 56. Back
Uncorrected oral evidence with David Hanson MP, 1 Dec 09, HC111-i,
available at www.parliament.uk/jchr. Back
Allegations of Complicity in Torture, paragraph 42. Back
Allegations of UK Complicity in Torture: the Government Reply
to the Twenty-third Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights,
Cm 7714, p3. Back
Twenty-fifth Report, Children's Rights, HL Paper 157, HC
318 (hereafter Children's Rights). Our predecessors' report
was the Tenth Report of Session 2002-03, The UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child, HL Paper 117, HC 81. Also see
paragraph 15. Back
Twenty-fourth Report, Closing the Impunity Gap: UK law on genocide
(and related crimes) and redress for torture victims, HL Paper
153, HC 553. Back
Control orders renewal 2009 and 28 days renewal 2009. Back
HL Deb, 28 Apr 09, c19-50GC. Back