Friday 18 March 2011

Commission on a U.K. Bill of Rights

The Ministry of Justice has announced the membership of the Commission charged with examining how human rights apply to the United Kingdom.  Under the Chairmanship of former Civil Servant Sir Leigh Lewis there will be eight members, six of which are Queen's Counsel.

The names are:
The terms of reference:

  • The Commission will investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law, and protects and extend our liberties. 

  • It will examine the operation and implementation of these obligations, and consider ways to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.

  • It should provide advice to the Government on the ongoing Interlaken process to reform the Strasbourg court ahead of and following the UK's Chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

  • It should consult, including with the public, judiciary and devolved administrations and legislatures, and aim to report no later than by the end of 2012.

The first point makes it clear beyond doubt that withdrawal
from the European Convention is not on the agenda.   Then second point indicates that the key issue will be about how Convention rights are to be recognised in national law.   Currently, that is via the Human Rights Act 1998 which seeks to weave the rights into national law whilst, at the same time, maintaining the British doctrine of Parliamentary Supremacy.  Point 3 relates to the view that the European Court of Human Rights requires reform.  Comments have been made about the excessive caseload, about how judges are "elected" - (they are elected from national nominees) - and about how the "margin of appreciation" ought to be re-examined so as to give national legislatures greater scope in controversial areas such as prisoner voting rights.  Point 4 requires wide consultation including with members of the public.

Further commentary on the Commission may be read at UK Human Rights blog.  One early reaction to the Commission membership is that, given the stances adopted in the past by some of the members, it may be deadlocked - The Guardian 18th March 2011.   In reality, given the legal standing of the majority of the members, that is unlikely to be the case and one would expect to see an objective report.  See also the LIBERTY press release. 

Other recent and relevant posts on Law and Lawyers:

Is there a case for any form of British Bill of Rights ...

Even more fisticuffs with Europe ...

A further bout with Strasbourg coming up ...

The government is disappointed and appalled by this ruling ...

The Bill of Rights 1688

Readers might wish to see the Westminster Hall debate on our "older" Bill of Rights 1688.

Addendum 24th March 2011:  Concerns based on lack of "diversity" have been raised about the composition of the Commission.  See Law Society Gazette 24th March - "Human Rights Commission prompts diversity concerns."

Addendum 30th March 2011:  The  Solicitor's Journal 28th March "Prepare for Battle" in which Vera Baird QC says that the coalition government's "independent commission"  to investigate the case for a British Bill of Rights is about politics, not law.  She sees the appointees as "hand-picked to be right of the mainstream."

Addendum 25th April 2011:  The Terms of Reference of the Commission and the options open to it are considered by Mark Elliott in The UK Bill of Rights Commission - The UK Constitutional Law Group 18th April.   The make up of the Commission is considered by Liora Lazarus - "The composition of the UK Bill of Rights Commission" - 24th April.

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