Action against extreme pornography welcome

11 June 2014

In a new Report, the Joint Committee on Human Rights welcomes the provision in the Criminal Courts and Justice Bill, carried over from the last Session of this Parliament, which extends the current offence of possession of extreme pornography to include possession of pornographic images depicting rape and other non-consensual sexual penetration.

The Committee considers this provision to be human rights enhancing, given the evidence of cultural harm done by such pornography, and acknowledges the strong justification provided by the Government and others for this proportionate restriction on individual rights.

In the Report, the Committee also concludes that there is insufficient certainty surrounding the legal position of “whole life orders” notwithstanding some welcome clarification by the Court of Appeal in the McLoughlin case. The Committee suggests a probing amendment to the Bill to give Parliament the opportunity to debate the desirability of amending the statutory framework for whole life orders to put beyond any legal doubt the availability of an appropriate review mechanism. This would be in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, under which it is for national authorities to decide how to give detailed effect to Convention rights in their national law.

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

With regard to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, the Committee:

  • welcomes the Government’s acknowledgment of the importance of international standards on the rights of children in detention, but finds no evidence that the relevant standards were considered by the government before publication of the Bill; recommends that equality impact assessments be carried out on its proposed secure college policy and made available to Parliament at the earliest opportunity;
  • urges the Government to provide further information in relation to SEN provision in secure colleges; and
  • recommends that the Bill should be amended to make explicit that secure college rules can only authorise the use of reasonable force on children as a last resort, only for the purposes of preventing harm to the child or others, and that only the minimum force necessary should be used.

The Committee reiterates its conclusions with regard to the reform of judicial review as set out in its earlier Report on that subject; it also requests more information about the justification for and likely impact of the criminal court charge proposed in the Bill, and requests that the Government monitor its impact when introduced. In addition, it calls for publication at the earliest opportunity of the draft regulations relating to the changes to the law of contempt of court and juror misconduct proposed in the Bill in response to concerns that the law striking the balance between the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression needs updating for the internet age. The Committee further recommends that the Bill be amended to make the Code of Practice to be issued by the Secretary of State relating to the processing of data gathered in the course of monitoring people following their release on licence subject to some form of parliamentary procedure, in order to ensure that Parliament has an opportunity to scrutinise the adequacy of the relevant safeguards.

Deregulation Bill

The Committee also reports on the Deregulation Bill. It expresses its concern that application of the economic growth duty in that Bill to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) risks the possibility of that body’s UN accredited "A" status being downgraded and could put the UK in breach of its obligations under EU equality law.  It therefore recommends that this duty not be applied to the EHRC unless that body is satisfied that it can be done in a way that will not restrict its independence. The Committee further recommends that the power of employment tribunals to make wider recommendations in discrimination cases – the removal of which is proposed by the Bill – should be retained.

Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"We are pleased to see the action that the Government is taking on extreme pornography, particularly as, as we are seeing in our current inquiry into violence against women and girls, such pornography contributes to a culture in which violence against women is condoned. However, some of the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill cause us concern. We are again disappointed that the Government has not examined the provisions of the Bill against all the relevant international standards relating to the rights of children before publication. Perhaps as a result there are a number of issues relating to secure colleges in particular that need examination and amendment, including making clear that force cannot be used on children to secure "good order and discipline". We also recommend that Parliament takes the opportunity presented by the Bill to design the detail of the review mechanism that exists for offenders who are given a whole life order, rather than leave this to be done by the courts.

With regard to the Deregulation Bill, we believe that it should not impose the economic growth duty on the EHRC unless the Commission is certain that it will not undermine its independence. The independence of all of our national human rights institutions is of great significance both to the role they perform here, but also internationally, and to the UK’s human rights standing abroad."

Further information

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