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MIL OSI – UK’s record on implementing human rights judgments risks being undermined

In a report published Wednesday 11 March, the Joint Committee on Human Rights commends the Government for the downward trend in the number of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights which have found the UK to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and for its successful efforts to bring to a conclusion a number of old cases.
The Committee draws to Parliament’s attention, however, the disparity between the good record of the Government before the European Court of Human Rights and the media’s portrayal of these statistics.

Prisoner voting

The Committee is, however, concerned by the Government’s failure to implement the judgments relating to prisoner voting and recommends the new Government brings forward legislation to implement the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the Draft Prisoner Voting Bill to demonstrate the UK’s continuing commitment to the rule of law.  Judgments of the European Court are not merely advisory. The UK is under a binding legal obligation to implement them, an obligation it voluntarily assumed when it signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, and its continuing failure to amend the law on prisoner voting undermines the UK’s credibility when invoking the rule of law to pressurise other states to comply with their legal obligations.

Northern Ireland issues

The Committee is also concerned by the delays in the implementation of some judgments in Northern Ireland and recommends that the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive need to consider what lessons are to be learned from the seven years it has taken for the Marper judgment to be implemented in Northern Ireland, to prevent delays of this unacceptable length occurring again. The Committee welcomes the provisions in the Stormont House Agreement establishing the Historical Investigations Unit as a potentially significant breakthrough in the implementation of a number of outstanding judgments concerning inadequate investigations into deaths in Northern Ireland. However, it is concerned that the Legacy Investigation Branch of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), which is to carry out the work of the Historical Enquiries Team until the Historical Investigations Unit is established, cannot itself satisfy the requirements of Article 2 ECHR because of its lack of independence from the police service. It is also concerned by the five year limit on the work of the new Unit.  The Committee recommends that legislation establishing the Historical Investigations Unit be treated as an urgent priority by the new Government.

Other issues

The Committee also:
  • is concerned that the Government’s failure to implement the Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) judgment may be prolonging the chilling effect on freedom of expression and recommends that the new Government treat this Leveson recommendation as a priority.
  • recommends that the Government bring forward the amendments to the two documents which are necessary in order to make clear to a person who is the subject of a whole life order that they can apply to the Secretary of State for discretionary release.
  • reports that the Government’s systems for responding promptly and fully to Court judgments concerning human rights are generally working well.
  • commends the Government for its annual report on human rights judgments and recommends some ways to make the report still more useful to Parliament, including by turning it into  an “Annual Human Rights Report” to Parliament which would then form the basis of the annual appearance of the Human Rights Minister before this Committee.
  • recommends that the Government become a champion of increasing parliamentary involvement in the ECHR system, beginning with the forthcoming Brussels Declaration on “Our Shared Responsibility” for the Convention rights which will be adopted at the end of March.