Committee report: ‘A Bill of Rights for the UK?’

On 10 August 2008, Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights published its Twenty-ninth report on ‘A Bill of Rights for the UK?’.

The Committee recommends that strengthening the legal protection for the rights of vulnerable and marginalised people should be one of the principal purposes of any new Bill of Rights.

The report expresses ‘regret that there is not greater clarity in the Government’s reasons for embarking on this potentially ambitious course of drawing up a Bill of Rights. A number of the Government’s reasons appear to be concerned with correcting public misperceptions about the current regime of human rights protection. under the HRA. We do not think that this is in itself a good reason for adopting a Bill of Rights. As we have consistently said in previous Reports. the Government should seek proactively to counter public misperceptions about human rights rather than encourage them by treating them as if they were true’.

The Committee agrees that any UK Bill of Rights has to be “ECHR plus”. It cannot detract in any way from the rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights. But it should also be “HRA-plus”, that is. add to and build on the Human Rights Act (HRA) as the UK’s scheme of human rights protection. It is imperative that the HRA not be diluted in any way in the process of adopting a Bill of Rights.

The Committee is concerned that by making an explicit link between human rights and citizenship, the Government may foster the perception that non-citizens are not entitled to fundamental human rights. The Committee is strongly opposed to any UK Bill of Rights being called either a Bill of Rights and Duties or a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities. Rights should not be contingent on performing responsibilities. nor should a Bill of Rights impose enforceable duties on individuals or responsibilities which they are already required by the general law to discharge.

Click here for Volume I – Report together with formal minutes

Click here for Volume II – Oral and Written Evidence

Stonewall research: ‘Love thy neighbour’

Research by Stonewall published in 2008 suggests that many faith leaders inadequately reflect their followers’ religious objections to lesbian and gay sexuality.

‘Love thy neighbour’, based on interviews with Jewish, Muslim. Hindu and Christian participants from across the north of England, found that many hold significantly more moderate views of homosexuality than is often claimed on their behalf.

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Joseph Rowntree Foundation research: ‘Immigration and social cohesion in the UK’

In July 2008, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published ‘Immigration and Social Cohesion in the UK: The rhythms and realities of everyday life’ by Mary Hickman, Helen Crowley and Nick Mai.

The research shows that most people felt that social cohesion was about negotiating the right balance in expressing difference and unity in local areas, rather than expecting complete consensus on values and priorities. However, some majority ethnic long-term residents experienced government concerns with immigration as prioritising the interests of private business, while neglecting their specific needs. The researchers conclude that the limited opportunities and multiple deprivations of the long-term settled population in parts of UK towns and cities undermine social cohesion. To ensure cohesion, the impact of social and economic changes needs to be addressed as well as how people relate to each other.

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European legal victory creates new rights for carers

On 17 July 2008, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that treating employees less favourably because of their association with a disabled person was unlawful.

The case of Sharon Coleman, funded by the Equality and Human Rights Commission jointly acting with solicitors Bates Wells & Braithwaite London LLP, was referred to the ECJ by an Employment Tribunal in order to determine if ‘disability discrimination by association’ is unlawful. Her case will now have to go back to the Tribunal for a hearing later this year.

In a statement, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said that ‘[t]he legal victory in Europe creates new rights for Britain’s six million carers, including those looking after older relatives’.