Human Rights Judgments - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

6  Systemic issues


6.1 Our predecessor Committee made a number of detailed recommendations aimed at overcoming a number of systemic obstacles which it had identified, both to effective parliamentary scrutiny of the Government's response to court judgments concerning human rights, and to full and timely responses to those judgments.[56] We have reviewed those recommendations and the Government's response to them for the purposes of preparing this Report and, with the exception of the three categories of case considered in chapter 3 above, we are pleased to be able to report that the Government's systems for responding promptly and fully to Court judgments concerning human rights are generally working well.

Co-ordination and provision of information

6.2 From our perspective, the Ministry of Justice appears to be an effective co-ordinator of responses to judgments from other Government departments, and liaises effectively and efficiently with the Foreign Office in relation to responses to judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. We have found that our predecessor's Guidance for Departments on responding to court judgments, which we adopted at the beginning of this Parliament, is generally complied with.

6.3 There has been a very significant improvement in the information provided to Parliament about human rights judgments, which is the crucial first step to facilitating effective parliamentary scrutiny. The Foreign Office notify us of Strasbourg Court judgments, while departments notify us of any declarations of incompatibility in their area of departmental responsibility. More could perhaps be done to ensure that we are always provided with a copy of an action plan, or updated action plan, as soon as it has been submitted to the Committee of Ministers, as there is inevitably a delay before the plan is posted on the Committee of Minister's website.

6.4 Action plans and action reports should also always include reference to any relevant scrutiny of the Government's response at national level, for example by our Committee or other relevant bodies such the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation or national human rights institutions such as the EHRC or the Children's Commissioners. This has not always been the case during this Parliament and we have had occasion to draw to the attention of the Committee of Ministers reports by us or others which are relevant to their supervision of the Government's response to a judgment but have not been mentioned in the Government's own action plans or reports.

The Government's annual report on responses to human rights judgments

6.5 We commend the Government in particular for the annual report that the Ministry of Justice has been publishing throughout the Parliament. The report is informative for parliamentarians generally and has been of considerable assistance to us and our staff when scrutinising the Government's responses to judgments. We have found it helpful for the report to include a general introductory section dealing with significant developments in the field of human rights, as this helps parliamentarians to situate court judgments about human rights in the wider context of the UK's human rights obligations under a variety of international treaties.

6.6 We also welcome the fact that the report has begun to include details of judgments of the Court in cases against the UK in which there has been found to be no violation of the Convention. This is helpful because it brings to the attention of parliamentarians the sorts of cases in which Convention compatibility issues have been raised but the Court has upheld the law or policy in question as being compatible with the Convention.

6.7 There is scope, however, for the Government's annual report to be even more helpful in future, and we recommend some ways in which to develop the Government's report in the next Parliament. We recommend that future reports include not merely declarations of incompatibility under s. 4 of the Human Rights Act, but judicial exercises of the power in s. 3 of the Human Rights Act, to interpret legislation compatibly with Convention Rights. We also recommend that the report include significant judgments against other States which may have implications for UK law (this is already done, for example, in the Netherlands and Germany).

6.8 Finally, we recommend that the Government's annual report to our Committee on Responding to human rights judgments should be turned into an "Annual Human Rights Report" to Parliament. The growing introductory section on "Wider developments in human rights", which takes in the UK's reporting to UN human rights monitoring bodies as well as responses to court judgments, could usefully be expanded in future to make the report a more general report, akin to the Foreign Office's annual report to the Foreign Affairs Committee on Human Rights, but focusing on human rights in the UK. Such a report could then usefully form the basis of the annual appearance of the Human Rights Minister before this Committee.

56   Enhancing Parliament's Role, chapter 6Back

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Prepared 11 March 2015