Commission on a Bill of Rights for the UK

Last Friday saw the deadline for submissions to the Commission on a Bill of Rights.

The Commission is basically the product of a political compromise – the Tories had  previously pledged to scrap the HRA in their election manifesto, and the Lib Dems had pledged to retain it.

Some have suggested that the whole process of investigating whether the UK needs a Bill of Rights is in fact  just a political charade. The theory goes that Tories have no real  intention of repealing the Act, but needed to do something to appease party members, and some Daily Mail reading folk. 

Others however have expressed alarm. Recent attacks on the HRA, the anti-European sentiments fuelled by amongst other thing by events in the Euro-zone, and a tougher political rhetoric about immigration all make for alarming backdrop against which the Commission is to investigate the issue of a Bill of Rights for the UK. The view essentially is that tinkering around with this in any way is a pretty dangerous project, and is likely to result in less comprehensive protection.

It’s in that above  political context we drafted our response  . An extract from the summary appears below.

Executive summary

Whilst we advocate for a human rights based approach to immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy making, we take the view that the UK does not need a bill of rights as such – the Human Rights Act (“HRA”) which exhibits many of the features of a bill of rights, in our view offers an appropriate mechanism to safeguard and promote the rights of all in our jurisdiction. We are extremely concerned by the prospect of its repeal. We also feel that a UK bill of rights would be legally, politically, and constitutionally challenging from the perspective of the devolved nations.

In our opinion a more effective way to promote the rights of all would be through precisely drafted and targeted legislation that reflects both human rights principles and standards. This could be better achieved principally through strengthening the role of Parliament, but also through  mainstreaming the language of human rights into parliamentary debates. 

On the question of public ownership of the Human Rights Act, we feel that responsible political discourse, and a public promotional and educative campaign would be a better way to secure ownership rather than simply creation a new bill of rights.

If however there is to be a bill of rights, then in our view it must enhance the protection afforded by the Human Rights Act, and in no way diminish it. Possible approaches might include incorporating the remaining protocols that the UK has yet to ratify such as Protocol 12, and from JCWI’s perspective, extending the section 19 procedure to the making of Immigration Rules given the frequency with which the rules engage ECHR articles.

The content of the Bill of Rights previously proposed by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission also warrant further consideration. However given that a principle function of a bill of rights is to protect the rights of minorities, consideration should be given to including appropriate protections for migrants and asylum seekers. These groups are particularly vulnerable to breaches of their rights. Inspiration for these rights could be drawn from the International Migrants Bill of Rights.

Finally, we feel it is regrettable that in 2011 a Commission of this kind should itself be so lacking in diversity in its make-up. This not only raises issues about compliance with the Equality Act 2010, but  also substantially impairs the breadth of experience  and opinions that ought to be brought to bear in an exercise of this kind. This deficiency in the constitution of the Commission is in our opinion already reflected in the procedure the Commission has thus far adopted in relation to this consultation. Indeed the Commission has failed to produce educative material which properly sets out the relevant issues in an accessible way that would enable/encourage others not at the Bar – ordinary citizens and the very groups that a Bill of Rights should seek to protect – asylum seekers, immigrants and other socially excluded groups, to participate meaningfully in a consultation about continue reading here

About jcwi

Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants is a key campaigning voice in the field of immigration, asylum and nationality law and policy. It is completely independent from government funding, remaining entirely free from government influence. View all posts by jcwi

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