Committee welcomes move to independent regulation

01 July 2009

In a report published at short notice on Tuesday 30 June 2009, ahead of the final stages of the Parliamentary Standards Bill in the Commons, the Joint Committee on Human Rights welcomes the move to independent regulation as being likely both to enhance public confidence in Parliament and to ensure that Members are treated fairly. However, it says that the Bill which is being rushed through the Commons in just three days is bound to violate members’ rights to a fair hearing as it stands.

The Committee is concerned that the Bill does not satisfy the right to an "independent and impartial tribunal" which is required by both the common law and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It says "the procedural safeguards in the Bill fall well short of the minimum requirements for fairness and are insufficient to prevent breaches of the right to a fair hearing occurring in practice".

The Committee recommends that the Bill be amended as follows to bolster the procedural safeguards:

Minimum requirements for fairness

The procedures referred to in sub-section (5) of section 7 must, in particular, provide a member who is the subject of an investigation or complaint with –

(a) a prompt and clear statement of the precise allegations against the Member;

(b) adequate opportunity to take legal advice and have legal assistance throughout;

(c) the opportunity to be heard in person;

(d) the opportunity to call relevant witnesses at the relevant time;

(e) the opportunity to examine other witnesses;

(f) the opportunity to attend meetings at which evidence is given, and to receive transcripts of evidence

(g) the benefit of a standard of proof of beyond reasonable doubt where the allegation amounts to a criminal charge, and of the balance of probabilities in all other cases.

- and that independent regulation be extended by providing a right of appeal, in exceptional cases. It recommends that this is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which has experience of appeals in professional disciplinary cases, and already has jurisdiction to determine whether a member of the House of Commons is subject to a statutory disqualification.

Chairman of the Committee Andrew Dismore MP said;

"It is ironic that a bill which is primarily designed to restore public confidence in the House of Commons is being rushed through Parliament and will not receive proper scrutiny. We are clear that if the Bill is passed as it stands, it will only be a matter of time before the European Court of Human Rights finds a violation of a member’s right to a fair hearing. It is right that we should urgently try to restore public confidence in Parliament, but the Bill should follow through the logic of accepting independent regulation, by spelling out in much more detail procedural safeguards to ensure that Members are treated fairly, and by providing for a right of appeal in exceptional cases to an independent and impartial tribunal, such as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council."

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