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Commission on a Bill of Rights

Volume 525: debated on Friday 18 March 2011

The Government have established an independent Commission to investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights, fulfilling a commitment made in our programme for government. The Commission will explore a range of issues surrounding human rights law in the UK and will also play an advisory role on our continuing work to press for reform of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The UK will be pressing for significant reform of the European Court of Human Rights, building on the reform process underway in the lead up to our Chairmanship of the Council of Europe later this year. We will be pressing in particular to reinforce the principle that states rather than the European Court of Human Rights have the primary responsibility for protecting convention rights.

The Commission will be chaired by Sir Leigh Lewis KCB, a former permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions with a long career in public service. He will be joined on the Commission by: Jonathan Fisher QC, Martin Howe QC, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws QC, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, Philippe Sands QC, Anthony Speaight QC, Professor Sir David Edward QC and Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky.

The terms of reference for the Commission are:

The Commission will investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law, and protects and extend our liberties. It will examine the operation and implementation of these obligations, and consider ways to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties. It should provide interim advice to the Government on the ongoing Interlaken process to reform the Strasbourg Court ahead of and following the UK’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe. It should consult, including with the public, judiciary and devolved Administrations and legislatures, and aim to report no later than by the end of 2012”.

The Commission members have, between them, extensive legal expertise and experience, and we expect the Commission to take into account a broad range of views as it fulfils its remit. In addition, an advisory panel will be established to provide advice and expertise to the Commission on issues arising in relation to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Commission will report jointly to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Justice. The Commission will be supported in its work by a small secretariat of civil servants.