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 96.

    First of all we need to establish what is a "right"
    If somthing is a right, such as say, the right to life, then everyone has it or is entitled to it, or it is not a right.
    So if there are people who society feels shouldn't have a certain right, then it isn't a right, but a privaledge. Such as the vote.
    Privaledges with responsibilities, is a much better way to do most things, than rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    59 Very patronising WN but not the truth. The ECHR was drafted partially on UK ideas but its provision has been skewed by the ridiculous ECtHR applications. The HRA compounds the problem. Meanwhile the EU has used the ECJ to bully control, not just the free market initially planned. Suggesting leaving the ECHR would make the UK a paraiah is utterly laughable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    65. Some Lingering Fog
    "We really mustn't leave it up to politicians to decide what human rights we should enjoy because"

    Like wise we shouldn't trust it to a bunch of lawyers who have a financial interest in areas of ambiguity in complex laws

    And lots of Politicians are or are related to Lawyers, eg the wife of a former Prime Minister

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Like the majority of the comments I cannot understand nor trust anything DC has to say or do - he's a man who enjoys hunting and can't make a decision based on compromise or what is good for the whole nation - he is instintively a Victorian upstairs downstairs elitist and not a modern meritocracy advocate. .

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    If we have a british bill of rights, does this mean that the millions of extra non british born inhabitants of the sceptered isle are exempt? Would it not be simpler, quicker and cheaper to adapt the European one and wave 2 fingers at those bits we dont like - as in not being able to remove "Very Naughty Boys"

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    in or out ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The UK was a signatory to the ECHR in 1957. Why is anyone surprised that we are reluctant to introduce a Bill of Rights when it took until 1998 to ratify our treaty obligations by introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998.

    A Bill of Rights would probably take another 40 years by which time I will be why should I care??

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    I'll tell you what. There is absolutely no way I would trust a UK government (be it Tory, Labour, or Lib Dem) to come up with a fair Bill of Rights that protects the rights of EVERY citizen of the UK.

  • 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 87.

    Biggest waste of time Dave has embarked on. The ECHR is a sound and principled document and if the ECtHR wasn't winding governments up it wouldn't be doing its job.

    The idea of 40-odd different European rights documents enforced in 40-odd different legal systems by judges appointed by and accountable to the same Governments likely to actually be doing the rights violating is, frankly, mental.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    The big problem is not the human rights act but it's interpretation by foreign courts and judges. The final say on anything in the UK should remain with the UK 's highest court and not Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    A true democracy would be a start!
    Every 4 years we get the chance to vote for a choice of two govs that ultimately will both serve the banks, the wealthy, PLC's, USA etc and are as deaf to the wishes of the people as any Soviet era gov.
    EG the people want a referendum on Europe. That is VERY clear to the gov yet they ignore it. 4 million demo against Iraq war but they did it anyway! Democracy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    82. Marty12
    "Make Human Rights applicable to every single person who deserves Human Rights."
    I agree. "deserves" being the operative word. Doesn't include criminals.
    And who (and when) makes that decision?

    Thats where it falls down.

    Plus if you've even got 3 points on your driving licence you're a criminal too.

    #79. Not "people". The barons. Magna Carta never applied to peasants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    The issue is with the application of the Human Rights Act, not the Act itself. And I sure wouldn't trust this bunch to come up with anything better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

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

    I agree. "deserves" being the operative word. Doesn't include criminals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Many of the rights we think we have in the UK have been taken away whilst we were not looking.
    Trial by jury and double jeopardy are no longer sacrosanct.
    I was so nieve, that i thought that the british police force were not allowed to carry guns...It turns out that this is not so.

  • 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 79.

    Watch out, big brothers about, I can just see what our rights would be if we allow political bodies to make them. In the past the people revolted and forced the MAGNA CARTA which gave us the freedom we have today..Don't let these bully boy politicians change it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    57. Toxic Tel
    Are my human rights being violated as I pay tax by PAYE, can I NOT negotiate how much I pay like Google,Starbucks and Amazon.I would prefer to pay nothing.
    Register yourself as a corporation and subcontract to your current employer. Its how Wayne Rooney avoids almost all taxes.... my brother in law even did a similar stunt (although lost many employment rights doing so)

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    There is nothing wrong with the Human Rights Act;

    the disrepute is earned by the corrupt liars in the legal industry giving unimagined interpretations so they can screw the system for personal financial gain while aided & abetted by incapable judges who all see the law as merely an academic game.

    Scrap the HRA & they would just abuse other existing laws instead.


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