JCHR Press Notice 04-05 No. 4

Session 2004-05                                9 December 2004

Call for evidence - Scrutiny of Bills in the new parliamentary Session

In the new parliamentary Session, which began on 23 November 2004, the Joint Committee on Human Rights will be continuing its practice of scrutinising all legislation introduced into either House of Parliament for its compatibility with the Convention rights as defined in the Human Rights Act 1998, as well as for its compatibility with other international human rights instruments to which the UK is a party.

In this Session the Committee expects the following Bills, some of which are not yet published, to present the most significant human rights issues:

Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill

Identity Cards Bill

Mental Capacity Bill (carried over from last Session)

Inquiries Bill

Equality Bill

Drugs Bill

Management of Offenders and Sentencing Bill

Criminal Defence Service Bill

Charities Bill

Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Bill

Judicial Pensions Bill

Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill

Through its published scrutiny progress reports, the Committee aims to advise both Houses on the human rights compatibility of legislation. Typically it examines a Bill when it is first published and, if it considers that provisions of the Bill have significant human rights implications, it puts questions to the Government in correspondence. The Committee's comments on individual Bills may be contained in one or more progress reports, which will include correspondence relating to them. The Committee aims to reach firm conclusions on each Bill before it receives a Second Reading in the second House.

The Committee has always welcomed submissions from outside organisations and individuals in relation to the human rights compatibility of individual Bills. This press notice emphasises this point by  issuing an open invitation for interested parties to submit written views on any Bill before Parliament during this Session. The Committee focuses its scrutiny on Public Bills presented by the Government, but it also considers draft Bills, Bills presented by back-bench Members of either House (private Members' Bills), and Private Bills.

Those intending to submit views should note that the Committee's role is restricted to examining the human rights implications of legislation. It has no remit to examine politically controversial issues which do not engage human rights issues. Nor does the Committee have any power to amend Bills. Submissions on such matters may be better directed to any Committee which may be examining wider policy questions on a Bill or draft Bill, or, in the case of proposed amendments to a Bill, to members of Standing Committees when they are established. However, in certain cases legislation which interferes with  human rights may be considered justifiable under the European Convention on Human Rights or other international instruments if the interference is proportionate to the need to achieve other countervailing benefits. In such cases the Committee is able to consider such matters in its analysis of the human rights compatibility of legislation.  It is particularly interested in receiving evidence about the impact of a proposed measure on human rights, whether the measure will achieve the benefits claimed for it, and whether the aim of the measure can be achieved in any other way which is less restrictive of the rights affected.  It is also interested in whether a measure aimed at enhancing human rights goes far enough to secure the rights concerned.

In order to inform parliamentary debate, the Committee aims to report as early as possible in a Bill's passage through Parliament.  The Committee therefore conducts its work on each Bill as swiftly as possible. This means that the timetable for considering outside input is very tight.  For Bills which have already been published, the texts of which are available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/pabills.htm , it would be helpful to receive any comments by 20 December. In general, it is helpful for the Committee to receive comments within two weeks of the first publication of a Bill (two months in the case of a draft Bill). Comments may also be submitted at later stages of a Bill's progress, for example when amendments with significant human rights implications are made to a Bill. In any cases of doubt, those wishing to submit comments are advised to contact Duma Langton (020 7219 4263; langtond@parliament.uk) in advance of preparing a submission to ensure that the Committee will be able to take their views into account.  Comments should focus on the human rights implications of a Bill, bearing in mind the Committee's function. Every effort will be made to take into account all comments received, but it may not always be possible in the time available.

Submissions should be made by Word document e-mailed to jchr@parliament.uk. In the subject field the e-mail should be marked "Bill scrutiny: (name of Bill)". Those making submissions should be aware that they become the property of the Committee and may be published by the Committee. The producers of submissions may also publish them elsewhere as long as it is made clear that they were prepared for the Committee.

Where organisations or individuals have prepared more general documents on a Bill, e.g. a parliamentary briefing, these may also be sent to the Committee for its information.

The Committee does not undertake systematic scrutiny of delegated legislation or European legislation for its human rights implications, but it always welcomes having its attention drawn to human rights compatibility issues arising in such forms of legislation.