Conference on Parliament and Human Rights: redressing the democratic deficit

18 April 2012

New research published today on the eve of the Brighton ministerial conference shows a significant increase in the quantity and quality of parliamentary debate about human rights, and provides the background to a one day conference in Westminster on Wednesday 18 April.

  • Arts and Humanities Research Council: Parliament and Human Rights: Redressing the Democratic Deficit

The research considered both Hansard reports of parliamentary debates and court judgments referring to the work of Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) with two broad aims:

  • To assess how, if at all, debate about human rights in Parliament changed between 2000 and 2010
  • To assess what use is made of such parliamentary materials by courts when considering human rights questions already considered by Parliament

The research, led by Murray Hunt (Visiting Professor at Oxford University and JCHR's Legal Adviser), shows that over the decade between 2000 and 2010 both the quality and quantity of substantive debate about human rights in Parliament significantly increased. Between 2000 and 2005 there were only 23 substantive references to Reports of the JCHR in parliamentary debates, compared to more than 1,000 during the 2005-2010 Parliament.

Dr Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, welcomed the report, and in particular the lessons it holds for possible future reforms of European Human Rights machinery. He said:

"Ministers from all 47 of the Council of Europe States will be meeting in Brighton tomorrow to discuss the future of the European Court of Human Rights. They would do well to take note of the findings of this report, and in particular the message that there is a great deal more that parliaments can do to secure better democratic scrutiny of their Governments' record in protecting and realising human rights.

I welcome the UK Government’s recognition of the importance of the role of national parliaments in the implementation of the European Convention and I hope that the Brighton declaration will do everything it can to encourage States to establish the necessary parliamentary structures to make more democratic scrutiny possible. I also hope it will acknowledge the importance of establishing a strong and open dialogue between the European Court of Human Rights and national parliaments, as my committee recently did when the President and Registrar of the Court appeared before it.

Keynote Address

The conference keynote address will be given by Lord McNally, Minister of State, Ministry of Justice and Deputy Leader of the House of Lords.

Speakers at the conference include four current or former Select Committee Chairs: Dr Hywel Francis (Chair, JCHR); Sir Alan Beith (Chair, Liaison Committee and Justice Committee); Lord Norton of Louth (former Chair, HoL Constitution Committee); Dr Tony Wright (former Chair, Public Administration Select Committee, now Professor of Government and Public Policy, UCL). Other speakers include Christopher Chope (Chair of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights).

Image: iStockphoto

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