Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘British Bill of Rights

Responding to Human Rights Judgments: 2019 to 2020 – new report

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Just a few days ago (18 December 2020) I noted the establishment of the Independent Review of the Human Rights Act 1998, to be chaired by Sir Peter Gross. One of the documents the review will, have to consider is the latest report by the Government to the Joint Committee (of the House of Lords and the House of Commons) on how it has been responding to judgements of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Despite its title, it covers a longer period than 2019-2020. Indeed, it provides important background on how the European Convention on Human Rights impacts on the UK.

What strikes me is, that while there have undoubtedly been a small number of controversial cases that have gone to the ECtHR over the last 20 years, the overall impact has been much more limited than many of the stories in the print media might suggest.

It is striking to see that the numbers of cases against the UK Government is actually very small – and many of the cases started are dismissed as disclosing no cause of action.

In the small number of cases which go against the UK Government, the outcomes of the Court seem to me sensible and balanced. (The low numbers may reflect the fact that, as a result of the enactment of the Human Rights Act 1998, it is easier to argue Convention issues in the UK courts than it used to be.)

Even where cases are taken in the UK Courts, the numbers of declarations of incompatibility made by the UK courts are also very small, and most being dealt with by changes to regulations rather than major legislative changes.

The report is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/responding-to-human-rights-judgments-2019-to-2020

Written by lwtmp

December 22, 2020 at 4:08 pm

Review of the Human Rights Act 1998

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In its Election Manifesto for 2019 the Conservative Party announced that it wished to review the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998.

For a number of years, some politicians had been argung for a repeal of the act and its possible replacement with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. That idea never gained broad political support and seems to have fallen away. Certainly the announcement, on December 7 2020, of the current review states, in terms, that the Government remains committed to the European Convention on Human Rights.

According to the official announcement, the new review – chaired by retired Court of Appeal judge, Sir Peter Gross – has the following tasks. It will consider:

  • The relationship between the domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This includes how the duty to ‘take into account’ of ECtHR case law has been applied in practice, and whether dialogue between our domestic courts and the ECtHR works effectively and if there is room for improvement.
  • The impact of the HRA on the relationship between the judiciary, executive and Parliament, and whether domestic courts are being unduly drawn into areas of policy.
  • The implications of the way in which the Human Rights Act applies outside the territory of the UK and whether there is a case for change.

The review is stated to be limited to looking at the structural framework of the Human Rights Act, rather than the rights themselves.

The announcement of the review also says that the new review ‘runs alongside’ the independent review of Judicial Review and ‘is part of the government’s work to deliver the commitment in the Manifesto to look at the broader aspects of the constitution and the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts’.

It seems that these 2 reviews, taken with ‘others to be announced in due course’ will deliver the ‘Commission on Constitution, Democracy, and Rights’ which the Government said it wished to establish. It is not at all clear whether there will be a separate Commission, or whether these separate reviews will, in some way, be welded together into some kind of final statement of policy. I would have thought that a distinct Commission would be essential to ensure that the outcomes from specific reviews were coherent.

The announcement of the HRA review is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-launches-independent-review-of-the-human-rights-act

I noted the review of judicial review at https://martinpartington.com/2020/08/07/independent-review-of-administrative-law/. See also https://martinpartington.com/2020/11/04/collection-of-responses-to-the-independent-review-of-administrative-law-iral/

Written by lwtmp

December 18, 2020 at 11:17 am

Prisoners’ voting rights: recent developments

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For over a decade there has been a stand-off between the UK Government and the European Court of Human Rights on the question of whether prisoners should have a right to vote. The law in the UK is that they should not. The European Court of Human Rights took the view that a blanket ban was a denial of the right to vote provided for in the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Coalition Government got as far as publishing a draft Bill setting out a number of options for resolving the impasse (which included doing nothing) in 2013. I noted this in this blog in August 2014. Since then the issue has gone very quiet.

It appears that towards the end of 2016, the Government did issue an undertaking to the Council of Europe that is would do something by the end of 2017. Readers of this blog might be forgiven for not spotting that, in fact, the Government has recently done just that. Not a Bill, as many of us has been expecting, but in the form of a Statement to Parliament.

On November 2nd 2017, the Secretary of State for Justice said (in part):

[T]he Government has considered this issue carefully. We have decided to propose administrative changes to address the points raised in the 2005 judgment, while maintaining the bar on convicted prisoners in custody from voting.

First, we will make it clear to criminals when they are sentenced that while they are in prison this means they will lose the right to vote. This directly addresses a specific concern of the [in the original ECtHR] judgment that there was not sufficient clarity in confirming to offenders that they cannot vote in prison.

Second, we will amend guidance to address an anomaly in the current system, where offenders who are released back in the community on licence using an electronic tag under the Home Detention Curfew scheme can vote, but those who are in the community on Temporary Licence, cannot.

Release on Temporary Licence is a tool typically used to allow offenders to commute to employment in the community and so prepare themselves for their return to society. Reinstating the civic right of voting at this point is consistent with this approach…

These measures will see no changes to the criteria for temporary release, and no offenders will be granted release in order vote.

Our estimate is that these changes to temporary licence will affect up to one hundred offenders at any one time and none of them will be able to vote from prison.

So, hey presto! No need for new legislation or amendment of the  Representation of the People Act 1983, but a simple change to Prison Service guidance.

The question this statement raises, of course, is whether this will be enough to satisfy the Council of Europe. My suspicion is that it may not, and that this will not resolve the issue once and for all. But it will probably be enough to kick the issue into the grass for a few more months – possibly longer.

The question of whether the European Court of Human Rights should have jurisdiction over this issue has recently been taken up in a book published by The Policy Exchange. In Human Rights and Political Wrongs: A new approach to Human Rights law Professor Sir Noel Malcolm argues that while Human Rights are very important, the way in which those rights have been interpreted and developed by the European Court of Human Rights has been inconsistent, and in some contexts has had the effect of undermining the authority of democratically elected governments. He argues that Human Rights should be limited to setting the boundaries of state power and that decisions on whether particular policies or decisions are in breach of Human Rights should be done by domestic courts.

I see the publication of this book as the first step in putting the question of whether we have a separate British Bill of Rights back onto the domestic political agenda.

The Secretary of state’s statement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/secretary-of-states-oral-statement-on-sentencing.

Professor Malcolm’s book can be downloaded free at https://policyexchange.org.uk/