I was taking part yesterday in a conference, held in Portcullis House, on Parliaments and human rights. It had an international focus but also addressed the role of the UK Parliament. I spoke on what I saw as the strengths and weaknesses of our current arrangements and proferred some modest thoughts as to how we could address the latter. You can see a summary of what I said here. However, my purpose here is to mention some research that was undertaken for the conference by the Legal Adviser to the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) and a couple of academics.
They researched debates on Human Rights in Parliament and whether there had been any significant changes in the decade since the Joint Committee was founded. In so doing, they identified some interesting differences between the two Houses. Reports of the JCHR were more frequently drawn on by peers than MPs; of references to JCHR reports, two-thirds were by peers. As the researchers noted, ‘Most of the members who made frequent use of JCHR reports were in the House of Lords, and this led to more detailed scrutiny and sustained debate regarding many of the issues raised in JCHR reports in the House of Lords than in the House of Commons.’ The most common contexts in which JCHR reports were referred to were counter-terrorism and criminal justice and procedure. The report noted the references drew substantive responses by Government ministers ‘and resulted in sustained dialogue about the justification for legislative measures and whether or not bills or existing law should be changed or amended’.
The research confirms what I would have expected, given the nature and composition of the Lords. To my mind, it reinforces the complementarity of the two Houses, ensuring that the issues are pursued from different perspectives and helping ensure a balance between democracy and human rights.