Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Report of the Commission on a New Bill of Rights for the UK

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The Commission, established in the early days of the Coalition Government, has now reported. The outcome does not give clear advice to Government.

Seven of the Commission’s nine members believe that, on balance, there is a strong argument in favour of a UK Bill of Rights on the basis that such a Bill would incorporate and build on all of the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, and that it would provide no less protection than is contained in the current Human Rights Act and the devolution settlements.  Some of the majority believe that it could usefully define more clearly the scope of some rights and adjust the balance between different rights. For the majority as a whole, the most powerful arguments for a new constitutional instrument are what is called ‘the lack of ownership’ by the public of the existing Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, and the opportunity which a UK Bill of Rights would offer to provide greater protection against possible abuses of power.

The two members are strongly opposed to this conclusion – Helena Kennedy and Philippe Sands. They believe that now is not the time to focus on a new UK Bill of Rights. They believe that the majority has failed to identify or declare any shortcomings in the Human Rights Act or its application by our courts. While they remain open to the idea of a UK Bill of Rights were they to be satisfied that it carried no risk of decoupling the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights, they fear that one of the principal arguments relied upon by the majority – the issue of public ownership of rights – will be used to promote other aims, including the diminution of rights available to all people in our community, and a decoupling of the UK from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Press reporting of the Commission’s report was pretty sketchy – not the subject of big headlines. The consensus seems to be that little action is likely to be taken in the short-term – it is one of those issues that divides the Coalition. However, in the run up to the 2015 General Election, commentators anticipate the Conservatives in particular returning to the attack, and arguing for closing off the existing routes to the European Court of Human Rights.

To read the report go to http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/press-releases/cbr/the-commission-on-a-bill-of-rights-report-a-uk-bill-of-rights-the-choice-before-us

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Written by lwtmp

December 20, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Chapter 3

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