The Lords and human rights

Lord Norton

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.

11 comments for “The Lords and human rights

  1. Lord Blagger
    19/04/2012 at 6:28 pm

    1. Where’s the democracy?

    Ah yes, you get to vote on issues, we don’t.

    2. Rights?

    So what, you’re regularly abusing them.

    Retrospective changes in the law, courtesy of parliament. Vince Cable gets half sacked for planning on ‘going to war with Murdoch’ over a case he has to judge. Unlimited inteception without a warrant by jobsworths in your local council. Laws passed by the Lords.

    Rights to know? Well we don’t want our dirty washing to be out in public. We’ll make it state secret.

    PS. How’s it coming with your calculations on the cost per day? Still trying to claim that more peers attending means less spending on expenses?

  2. MilesJSD
    20/04/2012 at 9:03 am

    What was the dominant factor in that thinking about “Human Rights” and thereunder about, for instance, “democratic human rights (see Lord Norton’s Personal blog link)” ?

    How far was the Equation between The-Earth’s-R & Non-R* Resources on the LHS
    balanced against
    Human-Civilisations’ Needs, Consumptions, Extinctions and Destructions on the RHS
    and made co-dominantly effective with whatever else did “win” as the dominant factor ?

    How many of the Common Human Needs & Hows were recognised and “win-win-win” included ?
    Where is there a published list of such Needs and Hows ?

    What non-common needs
    (qua also minor-ish “Needs” such as the “need” of Lord Blagger to demand curtailment of excessive-drawings from the Common (UK) Purse by Houses of Parliament Menbers, and by hundreds of millions of Other ‘high’ professionals or opportunists, of all sorts)
    were recorded

    and where are such records published to us the general-public ?
    • Renewable & Non-Renewable Resources

  3. maude elwes
    20/04/2012 at 12:50 pm

    Human rights and civilized justice is a very broad subject and can mean, the way these lawyers have set it up, that one persons ‘rights’ conflict with anothers.

    Lets start at the top with the current case being used by politicians to secretly cover their own inhumane treatment.

    We are told, Jack Straw and Tony Blair, ‘may’ have given the order or sanctioned an order for ‘human beings’ to be sent to countries that use brutal torture to extract confessions from those whom they ‘suspect may’ have committed offences against the American induced wars. That thing they claim consistently as war against ‘terror.’

    Jack Straw and Tony Blair are said to ‘possibly’ have signed this torture warrant for rendition to keep in the good books of our American masters. If this is so, then both these men committed crimes against humanity, as did those US leaders. Or, as it is now called, hate crime. Crimes against people who were lifted from the street against their Human Rights and against the ‘Human Rights Act.’ Is anyone pressing for Blair or Straw to be extradited to Libya under the same auspices British citizens have been extradited to that torturous country, the USA? Not so far they haven’t. Now I wonder why that is? Are their Human Rights, more important than that of other men? Do you feel our duplicitous politicians are above the same laws as they subject us to?

    And now those same politicians are calling to repeal the act they brought in, called ‘Freedom of Information.’ This is in order to escape from their ‘possible’ crimes against humanity.

    On top of this, our British newspappers are full of the story of Abu Quatada who is waiting in a British jail, having not been charged with any offence, simply on the presumption that he ‘may’ (like Blair and Straw) have committed a crime we are yet to hear of. The papers having proclaimed him guilty of promoting or committing terror. How they have that information, but seem unable to tell any of us what and where these acts took place, is an enigma. This is trial by the Press. And that must be against anybody’s human right.

    They say this man committed offences of murder, etc., ‘before’ he entered this country or Europe. Now this goes against our’ Human Rights’ as a nation, as to allow a known murderer and criminal into our country to freely be a threat and danger to our people, is a crime against us the tax payers of this country, who ridiculously have to foot the bill for him and his family. The main job of any government being to make sure the lives of the people of the country they rule are not put in harms way. That matter was completely ignored. Why do you think that was? Must be something at the back of it.

    Now we have the strange situation where the fight for this Abu Q and his Human Rights, takes precedence over ours, because of our Human rights not having been adhered to as this man should never have been allowed to enter this country in the first place. And why are his rights placed above those other men who have been sent to an equally brutal and torturous country known as the USA? All without any mercy because that place is seen as ‘our ally.’ Even though they instigated our previous leaders, Straw and Blair, into possibly committing these heinous crimes.

    Don’t you find this at all hypocritical? And don’t you think the World will look and ask if Europe and its leaders are sane when doing these strange acts which go against the very laws they claim must be obeyed by all?

    We deserve a whole rethink on all these matters. And the right to question what they are making law on our behalf. As no one was given an opportunity to vote on any of this.

    Human Rights are very important to us, but, they must be properly thought through and adhered to at all levels. As without this scrutiny and without obedience, they will fail to uphold what is needed for all people to be treated with compassion and humanity.

  4. MilesJSD
    21/04/2012 at 3:13 pm

    Further to the above, and following on from maude’s “scrutiny needed”

    one paralysing-impasse of our Democratic-governance is that
    The People have no clue whatsoever how to
    a) collect, or connect to, The Facts and Known Factors of any Situation or Problem
    b) how to hold cooperative Discussion concerning such Situation or Problem
    c) do lone and group (committee) Scrutiny of such Matters
    d) conduct Method III Cooperative Problem Solving meetings
    e) ensure that ensuing Debate is dispassionately worded and conducted
    f) how to conduct and sustain multi-way democratic communications laterally 24/7/52 (‘sideways’ with own-level-peers rather than vertically upwards and then await the ‘downwards’, if it comes at all)

    (I’ve run out of breath already)

    so how on Earth can any form of Governance and Citizenry whose members are so lagging behind essential advances in knowledge and know-how be trusted even with running a Local Neighbourhood Centre Raffle fairly and and ‘win-win-win’ ?
    much less with being competent enough to put our Human Needs & Hows and various rights-to-implement such recognised Needs&Hows,
    in a sustainworthy Order ?

  5. eureka14
    22/04/2012 at 5:41 am

    An appeal to British parliamentarians: please look up:

    Testimony by Human Rights Watch, 1 November 2011:
    ‘’…. What is the extent of systemic discrimination against the Tamil community? What steps have been taken, if any, to address that systemic discrimination? ….’’

    Testimony by Amnesty International, 17 November 2011:
    ”…. What steps should the Commonwealth organization or something like that take towards the Government of Sri Lanka?”… ‘’the more specific and direct route might be going to the UN Human Rights Council immediately’’ … ‘’member states, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, can themselves seek to exercise that principle and hold Sri Lankans responsible with respect to any violations of international humanitarian and criminal law. ….’’

    APPG for the Prevention of Genocide and Other rimes Against Humanity
    Message from the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Other Crimes Against Humanity, Canada: ‘’In addition to the ongoing widespread and systematic targeting of civilians in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the international community has recently been witness to a disregard of international law in places like Syria, Libya, Somalia, Côte d’ Ivoire and Sri Lanka, among others. As Canadians, and more importantly as human beings, it is our responsibility to give voice to the countless victims of these crimes and put meaning to the enduring phrase “Never Again”.

  6. Gareth Howell
    22/04/2012 at 6:58 am

    Maude Elwes post is well writ, but the constant naive theme of not reading between the lines is always there. I am sufficiently out of touch to know that I too have become old-new in my understanding of political topics. You have gotta be there, at least some times, to understand it! (contrary to my total online house of lords campaign)

    Are their Human Rights, more important than that of other men? Do you feel our duplicitous politicians are above the same laws as they subject us to?

    YES! Regrettably yes.

    I believe that Abu Q’s crime is successful “incitement to murder”, rather than the deed of murder itself.

    A political leader has to take the responsibility for “inspiring” his troops to
    go out and kill the enemy. It is a responsibility that only the Lib Dems in parliament did not take in the Iraq war, for example, much to their credit.

    The fact that “incitement” done by one without political office,(Abu Q) is exactly the same as the “inspiration” of the one with it (viz Blair, Knight, Labour govt cabinet and so on)has to be understood to make any progress in making political judgements of that order.(or about crime)

    Abu Q’s incitement? Murder.
    Blair’s inspiring speeches? men of courage; help our heroes.


    • maude elwes
      24/04/2012 at 10:41 am

      @Gareth Howell:

      And if that is not in line with how we should all be viewing, Human Rights, what do you suggest should be done about it? And how do we get that done?

      Naivete is a government stance on our behalf.

      They believe we don’t know the full game they play at our expense.

  7. eureka14
    22/04/2012 at 7:35 am

    Dear Lord Norton
    Sri Lanka is an island in a geopolitically startegic location. Hence the UN and the Commonwealth members have not been taking any action against the oppression of the ethnic minorities since independence in 1948. It’s only when things have gone too far, that the UNHRC passed a resolution on Sri Lanka asking it to implement the recommendations of its own Commission – it’s unbelievable that the report of this commission was made public because this president has not published the reports of othe other 14 commissions/committees appointed by him in the last six years. In Sri Lanka successive governments have been known to ”appoint” commissions to ward off international criticism till another crisis comes along and the attention passes on.

    Internal colonialism replaced external colonialism as far as the ethnic minorities are concerned:
    ”But that truth cannot excuse human rights violations that currently afflict the nation as a whole; or for that matter obscure the looming threat of the cultural and political colonisation of the north by the Sinhala Buddhist majority” – Biased and Prejudiced Collection on Sri Lanka, *Gananath Obeyesekere, Economic & Political Weekly, VOL 47 No. 04, 28 January-03 February (*a Sinhalese Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University)

    Power Sharing as Peace Structure: The Case of Sri Lanka, IICP Working Paper, No. 2, 2005, Johan Galtung, Professor of Peace Studies: ‘’External Colonialism: Democracy :: Internal Colonialism: Human Rights’’

    Jayantha Dhanapala’s submission to Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission(LLRC), August 2010: ‘’The lessons we have to learn go back to the past – certainly from the time that we had responsibility for our own governance on 4 February 1948 . Each and every Government which held office from 1948 till the present bear culpability for the failure to achieve good governance, national unity and a framework of peace, stability and economic development in which all ethnic, religious and other groups could live in security and equality. Our inability to manage our own internal affairs has led to foreign intervention but more seriously has led to the taking of arms by a desperate group of our citizens. we need to rectify this bad governance. We have already missed several opportunities in the past. We need to have State reform; we need to have rule of law established; we need to ensure non discrimination amongst our citizens; we need to have devolution of power and a tolerance of dissent and a strengthening of democratic institutions.’’ (Dhanapala is a Sinhalese and was formerly UN Under-Secretary General for Disarmament)

    ‘Salt on Old Wounds: The Systematic Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill Country’, 20 March 2012,

    Please save the Tamils from extinction !!

  8. Gareth Howell
    24/04/2012 at 3:09 pm

    It is certainly true Maude that the govt is all too keen, ably assisted by the Press , to pull the wool over our eyes about world events.

    one person’s ‘rights’ conflict with anothers.

    Isn’t it said that one person’s gain of human rights is the loss of somebody else’s civil liberties? One works from the top down and the other from the bottom up!

    • maude elwes
      29/04/2012 at 6:24 am

      I felt this would help clarify what this ‘Human Rights Act’ really is about. So many people in the UK are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of it, so, this should be pinned to the wall when reading British newspapers. Especially those with a right wing bent.

      In fact it should be pinned up in every GP’s surgery, police station, solicitors office, court house and so on, across the country, to enable men and women at all levels to understand what his/her ‘rights’ are.

  9. Lord Blagger
    29/04/2012 at 7:10 pm

    Quite. The press has a field day on case law, not on the law itself.

    It goes back to the basic problem. Peers and MPs can’t write an unambiguous law. They have created the mess.

    On the HRA itself, we are lacking some clauses.

    Here’s one.

    Everyone shall have the same rights and perks as any other citizen.

    So if you want to exempt your expenses from scrutiny and taxation, you exempt everyone’s expenses.

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