UK Parliament Joint Committee on Human Rights - legislative scrutiny: Bill of Rights Bill - evidence submitted by the Scottish Government

Our formal response to the call for evidence on the UK Government's "Bill of Rights Bill" from the UK Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights

Parliamentary scrutiny of human rights

4. The Government's consultation suggested that the role of Parliament in scrutinising human rights should be strengthened. Would the Bill of Rights achieve this? How could this be achieved?

Scottish Government Response

The measures contained in the Bill are likely in practice to be counter-productive and to complicate and diminish the ability of the UK Parliament to engage in effective scrutiny of UK compliance with human rights obligations.

Provisions in the Bill which purport to enhance the role played by Parliament (such as clause 25) are almost entirely tokenistic. Ministers already have a responsibility to ensure that Parliament is kept properly informed of important developments, such as a significant failure to comply with international obligations. Moreover, the Secretary of State for Justice already reports annually to the Committee[9]. His report covers not only adverse judgments in the ECtHR but also declarations of incompatibility made by the UK courts. Indeed, the report goes further still by providing an overview of wider developments in the field of human rights. The Bill adds nothing of substance to this existing practice.

The idea that repealing the current section 3 of the HRA and placing the courts under a duty to defer to Parliament (clause 7) might enhance the role of Parliament is similarly illusory[10]. Indeed, the Bill actively erodes the powers and privileges of Parliament. Clause 40, for example, has the effect of side-lining Parliament by giving far-reaching legislative powers to government ministers.

5. The Bill removes the requirement in section 19 HRA for Ministers to make a statement as to whether a Government bill is compatible with human rights. What impact would this have on Parliamentary scrutiny of human rights?

Scottish Government Response

The requirement in section 19 HRA is an integral part of the system of human rights safeguards established under domestic law in the UK. Its removal would be regressive.

There can be no obvious objection to a provision that requires the UK Government to state whether proposed legislation is (in its view) compatible with the Convention rights. Fulfilling that requirement should be a straightforward matter. Indeed, it would be unacceptable for the UK Government not to know whether a bill is compatible at the point it is introduced. Ministers should therefore be prepared to make a statement which informs both Parliament and the public about the effect of the bill.

If legislative change is required, the Scottish Government has argued that the better model to follow is that contained in section 31 of the Scotland Act 1998[11].



Back to top