The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission has just released a major research report on ‘Developing a Bill of Rights for the UK’. The report aims to ‘identify and explore best practice processes for developing a new Bill of Rights for the UK’. The report analyses evidence from related domestic and international experiences (including the ACT, Victoria and Australia) and identifies key principles to underpin the development of a Bill of Rights, regardless of which political party is in power.
The Human Rights Law Resource Centre was interviewed for the research and is extensively and positively cited through the report.
The key finding and recommendations as to the process of creating a Bill of Rights include that it be:
- Non-regressive: Any future UK Bill of Rights should not dilute existing protection provided by the HRA, either in relation to the specific rights protected, or by weakening the existing machinery for the protection of Convention rights. Any process that starts from a premise of going backwards would set a damaging precedent internationally.
- Transparent: Politicians should be transparent about the purpose of a Bill of Rights and the terms of reference and methods of the process by which they propose to create it. This entails a clear procedural commitment to act on the results of public consultation and deliberation within clearly articulated parameters.
- Independent: The body running the process should be demonstrably non-partisan, independent of government and have no vested interest in the outcome.
- Democratic: For the outcome to be seen as having democratic legitimacy, the process must also be democratic. This principle recognises that Bills of Rights are not only a constraint on the exercise of arbitrary power; they are also a positive instrument to enable relatively powerless groups to have an effective say in the democratic process.
- Inclusive: The process should place the highest premium on eliciting the views and experiences of groups whose human rights are most vulnerable to being breached, and should give those voices an elevated status in the assessment of responses and in the final outcome.
- Deliberative and participative: The process should be an exercise in building citizenship, not merely ‘market research’. It should provide multiple opportunities for participation and, ideally, properly constructed forum(s) for deliberation which should be used to educate and invigorate the wider consultation.
- Educative: The public should be informed to the greatest extent possible about existing human rights protections and options for building on them, and about their duty to respect the rights of others. A minimum requirement is the provision of accessible and impartial information and the correction of myths and misperceptions about human rights and the HRA.
- Evidence-based: Actors concerned with the protection and promotion of human rights should advocate for a concordat that would bind all parties that signed it to certain rules of engagement; principally, an agreement not to use language or bring stories into the public domain that knowingly distort the purported impact of human rights and the HRA. This would help to ensure that all parties commit themselves to a process which is avowedly educative and non-partisan and does not trade in myths or seek to use the Bill of Rights as a proxy for unrelated issues.
- Reciprocal: The process should be a two-way dialogue in which the government, too, is educated. The imprint of the process must be visible and acknowledged in the final outcome.
- Timed: Any process should have a clear timeframe with, at a suitable juncture, a momentum-building phase. It should not be indeterminate.
- Political commitment: The process should be adequately resourced and there should be a political commitment to act on the outcome of consultation.