The UK Commission on a Bill of Rights NICEM Conference.1July 2011 Sanchita HosaliSenior Policy and Legal Affairs Advisor British Institute of Human Rights
British Institute of Human Rights An independent charity working to bring human rights to life • Raising awareness of human rights • Building capacity to use human rights • Influencing policy change www.bihr.org.uk
Why is a “UK” Bill of Rights a BIHR issue? • The Human Rights Act drives changes in policy and practice which “bring rights to life” • Human Rights Act is at the heart of the debate and is under threat • Bills of Rights are about the constitutional and legal protection of human rights…but is that what is really happening?
Lines in the (quick?) sand Manifestos Lib Dem: committed to ensuring 'that everyone has the same protections under the law by protecting the Human Rights Act.' Conservatives: 'To protect our freedoms from state encroachment and encourage greater social responsibility, we will replace the Human Rights Act with a UK Bill of Rights.' (Scrapping the Human Rights Act also David Cameron’s number 3 pledge)
Lines in the (quick?) sand Initial Coalition Agreement No reference to the Human Rights Act, domestic human rights or Bills of Rights (including the NI process) Media and political “storm” around deportation case Home Secretary Theresa May noting the government’s disappointment over the ruling and the Human Rights Act Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg : the Human Rights Act is “an absolute constitutional cornerstone” and that “any government would tamper with it at its peril” (and senior Lib Dem resignation threats)
Lines in the (quick?) sand Final Coalition Agreement: ‘…establish a commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, to ensure that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties.’
Post election • Ken Clarke and Lord McNally possible “safe hands”? • Commission as joint responsibility between Ministry of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister’s Office – less of a political hot potato? • Commission kicked into the long grass / on the back burner • BUT…
Early 2011 • December 2010 – March 2011 ratcheting up media and political hostility towards the Human Rights Act • Prisoners voting rights • Sex offenders • Deportation cases • Tone: increasing on the Human Rights Act and the Courts
Commission announced • Friday 18 March 2011 – official announcement (pre-announcement media leaks) • Members mainly legal, chaired by former civil servant • Seen “balanced” views on Human Rights Act and Bill of Rights? • Terms of reference reflecting Coalition Agreement and references to reform programme for European Court of Human Rights • Report “no later than end 2012”
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.
Terms of Reference • It should provide advice to the Government on the on-going 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.
Key Issues • No mention of the Human Rights Act: • Fundamental differences between the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act • Leaves all the options on the table including repeal • Masks the danger to the Human Rights Act and what this means in practice
Key Issues • Is this a genuine Bill of Rights moment? • Starting point of human rights law as a negative • Fundamental misunderstanding of the way the current law works • Confused approach to how a Bill of Rights would be different or better
Key issues • Devolution: • Human Rights Act is woven into the devolution settlements • Transformed from British to UK Bill of Rights • Lack of reference to the particular circumstances in NI and the Bill of Rights process • Devolution panel yet to be established
Key Issues • International impact • International reputation issue • Undermining the post-WW 2 settlement? • Impact on the ground • Failing to make the link between human rights and the HRA and the big agendas • Undermining innovative work, creating a climate of uncertainty
Key issues • Accessibility, clarity and relevance • Focus on the courts and constitutional issues (but not always accurate!) • Mixing together the domestic legal protection of human rights with management issues at the European Court • Adding to the perception that human rights are legal and technical
Key Issues • What is the Commission? • A political fudge that could be “harmless”? • An attempt to kick start an informed and genuine debate? • A rallying point for Human Rights Act / ECHR sceptics? • A source for manifesto commitments for the next General Election?
Leading to lots of questions • For example • To what extent is the Westminster debate a priority in NI? • To what extent do dangers to the HRA change strategy / tactics? • How does the NI Bill of Rights process fit into the Westminster debate? • How important will devolution be in these debates?
What is BIHR doing? Speaking up for the Human Rights Act and our current framework • Bringing together the “not the usual suspects” • Policy and influencing work • Use it before you lose it! • Human rights tour across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales • Human Rights in the Community Project • Human Rights and Healthcare with VCS groups
Thanks! • For more information: • Sanchita Hosali • Senior Policy & Legal Affairs Advisor • firstname.lastname@example.org / 0207 549 0550 • www.bihr.org.uk • Facebook BIHR – The British Institute of Human Rights • Twitter BIHRhumanrights • www.ourhumanrightsstories.org.uk