5 Working practices|
73. 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.
We discussed the implementation of these changes at autumn awaydays
in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The main changes in our working practices since 2006 have been
reporting on bills before report stage in the first House, the
introduction of Committee amendments to billsdiscussed
in chapter 3 of this reportand
the introduction of 'mini-conferences'. These are short seminars
attended by a broad range of interested parties including NGOs,
specialist advisers, and, where possible, Ministers, to follow-up
our reports (or aspects of them) or to discuss issues likely to
be the subject of future inquiries.
74. During the 2008-09 session we hosted a mini-conference
on 25 February on business and human rights, in order to help
develop the terms of reference for our subsequent inquiry. We
held a larger conference on 22 April to follow up our 2008 report
on a Bill of Rights for the UK, at which Michael Wills MP, the
Human Rights Minister, Dominic Grieve MP, Official Opposition
Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, and David Howarth MP, Liberal
Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, debated their
parties' proposals for a Bill of Rights.
Our awayday, on 3 November, also provided an opportunity to discuss
human rights issues with NGOs and others. The themes covered this
year were social and economic rights in legislation, freedom of
expression and court injunctions, and human rights action plans.
75. We intend to hold a mini-conference in the early
part of 2010 to follow up our policing and protest reports.
Informal meetings and visists
76. Tables 5 and 6 set out the other informal meetings
we held during the year and the visits we undertook. Table
5: JCHR informal meetings, 2008-09
Table 6: JCHR visits, 2008-09
|5 May ||Equality Bill team
|13 October ||International Brotherhood of Teamsters
|13 October ||Councillor Adele Morris, Southwark Council
|5 November ||Professor Alan Millar, Chair, Scottish Human Rights Commission
|14 - 18 June ||New York and Washington D.C.
||Business and Human Rights|
|4 December ||Lambeth, Met Police Central Communications Command Centre
||Policing and Protest|
|21 January ||Yarl's Wood, Bedfordshire, Immigration Removal Centre
||Immigration and human rights|
|Representative capacity visits
|27 March ||Oxford, BILD conference
||Adults with learning disabilities|
|23 September ||Geneva, EHRC Conference
78. Informal meetings with interested parties, at
Westminster or on visits within the UK or abroad, are an essential
part of our work. They enable the Committee 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.
79. 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.
Following-up previous work
80. Several of our reports were explicitly intended
to follow up previous work,
or built on work we or our predecessors had undertaken.
We also continued to follow up earlier reports in correspondence
with the Government and others, some of which is published with
this report. As mentioned
above, we continued to follow up our 2008 report on a Bill of
Rights for the UK in a number of different ways.
81. Our predecessors recommended that there should
be a cross-departmental task force on deaths in custody, which,
amongst other things, would share best practice and make recommendations
to the Government.
The Government subsequently set up the Forum on Deaths in Custody,
which one of our Members, Lord Bowness, attended as an observer.
The Forum has now been replaced by a Ministerial Council on Deaths
in Custody, on which Lord Bowness has observer status.
Relations with government
82. We deal with most Government departments, somesuch
as the Ministry of Justice and the Home Officefrequently.
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.
83. 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. The
Government is obliged to reply to our other reports within two
months of the date of publication unless we agree a longer time
period with the relevant department. In our 2007-08 report, we
criticised the Government for its long and continuing delays in
replying to our 2006-07 report on the meaning of public authority
under the Human Rights Act and certain recommendations in our
2006-07 report on adverse human rights judgments.
Both replies have now been received, although in the former case
only after we had complained to the Commons Liaison Committee,
which took up the matter with the Leader of the House of Commons.
84. We set out above the parliamentary debates for
which our reports were relevant,
including the debate on our own reports which we initiated as
part of our follow up activity.
85. Our Chair, Andrew Dismore MP, again promoted
a Private Members' Billthe Human Rights Act (Meaning of
Public Authority) Billwhich sought to implement a solution
to the problem concerning the scope of the Human Rights Act on
which we have often reported. The Bill did not make progress beyond
86. Our Legal Adviser advised the Commons Foreign
Affairs Committee on the human rights implications of the draft
constitution proposed for the Cayman Islands, a UK overseas territory.
The draft constitution excluded sexual orientation as a prohibited
ground for discrimination, included numerous references to "Christian
values" and also included an exemption for any claim for
discrimination on the grounds of public morality. The Foreign
Affairs Committee deplored the omission of reference to sexual
orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination and raised
the possibility that the constitution could afford less protection
to citizens of the Cayman Islands than they are entitled to under
the ECHR. It recommended that in all future discussions with Overseas
Territories the FCO insists that no specific religion or faith
community be singled out for privileged mention and that anti-discrimination
provisions make explicit mention of sexual orientation.
87. Our main tool for communicating with the public
is the Committee's website (www.parliament.uk/jchr). As with other
select committees, our reports and oral evidence can be found
online. We also publish our correspondence with Government on
bills 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. This
year, we published online written evidence relating to our thematic
inquiries on children's rights and business and human rights at
an early stage in order to raise the profile of the inquiries
and generate further evidence.
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 reports
on allegations of complicity in torture and policing and protest.
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 receive
from such bodies and would welcome further contact with groups
wishing to raise UK human rights issues.
90. An innovation in 2008-09 was the lecture we hosted
to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration
of Human Rights, on 10 December 2008, which was given by Dame
(now Baroness) Nuala O'Loan.
91. Several of our Members and staff have given lectures
and presentations over the course of the year, most notably our
Chair's speech at a British Institute of Learning Disabilities
conference in March about the human rights of adults with learning
92. Although our remit relates only to the UK, some
of our work has an international dimension.
- We maintain links with the
Council of Europe, its Parliamentary Assembly, and the European
Court of Human Rights in respect of our work on the Government's
response to adverse decisions of the court.
- We keep under review the work of the EU's Fundamental
Rights Agency, following our visit to its headquarters in Vienna
in November 2008.
- Our Chair participated in a seminar organised
by the EHRC in Geneva in September at the 12th session
of the UN Human Rights Council.
- Our staff have assisted with training parliamentarians
and staff in Macedonia in scrutiny of human rights issues, as
part of a programme organised by the International Bar Association.
We also often meet parliamentarians and others from
abroad interested in human rights when they visit Westminster.
75 Working practices report. Back
The review of the 2006 changes to working practices was discussed
in the chapter 4 of 2007 annual report. Also see 2007-08
report, paragraphs 72-74. Back
A record of the discussion at this event is published with this
report - see Annex 4. Back
For example, Demonstrating respect for rights follow up. Back
For example, 28 days renewal 2009 and Children's Rights. Back
See written evidence pages; 73; 128-130. Back
See paragraph 49. Back
Third Report of Session 2004-05, Deaths in Custody, HL
Paper 15-I, HC 137-I, paragraphs 375-376. Back
In 2008-09 we received Government replies to scrutiny reports
on the following bills: Political Parties and Elections and Borders,
Citizenship and Immigration (17th Report); Coroners and
Justice (17th Report and Twentieth Report, Legislative
Scrutiny: Finance Bill; Government Response to the Committee's
Sixteenth Report of Session 2008-09: Coroners and Justice Bill
(certified inquests) HL Paper 133, HC 882) and Marine and
Coastal Access (Twenty-first Report, Legislative Scrutiny:
Marine and Coastal Access Bill; Government Response to the Committee's
Thirteenth Report of Session 2008-09, HL Paper 142, HC 918).
2007-08 report, paragraphs 68 and 83. Back
Government Response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights 31st
Report of Session 2007-08. Responding to Human Rights Judgments,
Cm 7524, Jan 09; The Human Rights Act 1998: definition of 'public
authority' Government response to the Joint Committee on Human
Rights' ninth report of session 2006-07, Oct 09; p128 for our
letter to Liaison Committee. Back
See Table 4. Back
Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of 2008-09, Human
Rights Annual Report 2008, HC 557, paragraphs 295-303. Back
See paragraph 70. Back
We published the lecture with Bill of Rights Government Response,
Ev pp33-43. Back