British Bill of Rights commission fails to reach agreement

Houses of Parliament One commission member resigned after alleging it paid insufficient attention to the role of Parliament

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A commission set up to resolve political rows over the future of human rights in the UK has failed to reach unanimous conclusions.

A majority of the Commission on a Bill of Rights, set up as part of the coalition agreement, says the UK should have new legislation on rights.

They warn of a "lack of ownership" of the current Human Rights Act and the European system related to it.

Two of the nine members said nothing was wrong with the current regime.

They accuse other members of the commission of proposing a bill of rights as an attempt to start "decoupling" the UK from Europe.

The 1950 European Convention on Human Rights is a treaty to protect human rights and freedoms in Europe, overseen by European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The UK's 1998 Human Rights Act brought into UK law the convention, so anyone taking a case out could have them heard in UK courts without a lengthy wait to get a Strasbourg hearing.

The commission was chaired by retired civil servant Sir Leigh Lewis and included four legal experts appointed by David Cameron, whose Conservatives back replacing the Human Rights Act with a bill of rights, and four by Nick Clegg, whose Lib Dems insist the act must stay.


Its terms of reference made clear that any new bill would have to "incorporate and build on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights".

Sir Leigh said the the majority believed a British Bill of Rights would come to be seen as "owned by this country, by the people of this country, by the Parliament of this country".

European Court rulings: At-a-glance

The headquarters of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
  • Founded: 1959
  • Headquarters: Strasbourg, France
  • Official languages: English, French
  • Run by: Council of Europe - Europe's human rights body
  • Consists of: 46 judges - one from each of the countries that have signed up to the European Human Rights Convention.
  • Biggest single source of cases pending on 1 Jan 2012: Russia

Profile compiled by BBC Monitoring

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the Commons he would give careful consideration to the findings on the "creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties".

One of the two dissenters, Professor Philippe Sands, told BBC Radio 4's the World at One that one of their concerns had been that the majority "couldn't agree on what should be in a Bill of Rights and they couldn't even agree on whether or not it should be based on the European Convention".

Prof Sands added: "We were told in no uncertain terms Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland do not want to have a United Kingdom Bill of Rights. There were no ifs and buts, it was across the political spectrum."

But Anthony Speaight, a Conservative Party member of the commission, said: "Seven of the nine members of the commission are in principle in favour of a UK Bill of Rights written in language which reflects the distinctive history and heritage of the countries within the UK, and is different from the Human Rights Act.

"They consider that, whilst the mechanisms of any such Bill of Rights should be broadly similar to those in the Human Rights Act, there may be scope for some specific changes.

"Some of us believe it could usefully define more clearly the scope of some rights and adjust the balance between different rights."

For Labour, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan described the commission, which cost £700,000, as a waste of money and said it was a "classic political fudge, designed to paper over the cracks within the Tory-led government".

He said: "The Human Rights Act is our Bill of Rights, and already provides legal protection against torture and slavery, and enshrines in law the right to liberty, to open and fair justice and to protest. It upholds freedom of speech, the right to a private life and to religious freedoms.

"The Human Rights Act was always intended to be a living bill of rights and it's important that it continues to reflect changing society."

One of its members, Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, quit in March after deciding it was a waste of time.

He described the commission's conclusions as a "very vague report, because people couldn't agree on anything specific".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    The Human Rights Act & European Convention on Human Rights are fine as they are... the rot set in when lawyers started in on arguing about how & when they should apply in ways that stripped people of the responsibilities that go along with such rights.

    You have the right to a fair trial, not the right to evade one altogether, for example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    "Make Human Rights applicable to every single person who deserves Human Rights."

    I agree and the key to who deserves human rights is in the title. Every single human being no matter who they are. It seems to me that some want to pick and choose who human rights apply to but that is not what these rights are about. They should apply to everyone or no one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    It's all very well the opponents of human rights constantly screaming their heads off about "terrorists", but I have yet to hear them put forward a convincing argument as to why my human rights as a law-abiding citizen should not be protected.
    I await the response with great interest.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Rights are interwoven with responsibilities, so it seems that if we wish to write down and commit to legislation our rights as citizens, it is also necessary to balance this with rules which determine our responsibilities to society. The problem is that we'd be setting boundaries to our freedom. Is this better than leaving it to the Courts, as we have such little real access to the law? Probably.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    A Bill of Rights might clarify a few things, so could be useful.

    However the last thing we need is to have one created that actually strips people of rights. We can't have the situation where people are stripped of basic rights (silence, fair trials) just because the label 'terrorist' has been applied to them.


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