Amendment 167A (to Amendment 167)

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (7th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords am 9:30 pm ar 12 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur 9:30, 12 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, here we go again. First, they came for the asylum seekers and then for the prisoners. Which unpopular and demonised group—to quote my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti—will be next to be deprived of some of the rights contained in the Human Rights Act?

As some of us have been arguing during the passage of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, to deprive marginalised groups of their human rights in this way undermines the principle of universality at the heart of human rights. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, quoted back at us that it is

“a fundamental tenet of modern human rights that they are universal and indivisible”.—[Official Report, 14/2/24; col. 342.]

He then went on to try to justify the very opposite.

In answer to some general Oral Questions on our human rights legislation in June, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice emphasised the Government’s commitment to

“a human rights framework that … works for the British people”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/6/23; col. 145.]

He later talked about our legislation delivering on the interests of the British people. Leaving aside whether universal human rights can be confined to the British people, it raises the question of whether prisoners no longer count as British people.

As it is, some of the briefings we have received, including from the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust, make the point that in the words of the latter,

“it is precisely in custodial institutions like prison … that human rights protections are most vital, because individuals are under the control of the state”.

The NAYJ, a member organisation which campaigns for the rights of and justice for children in trouble with the law, is particularly anxious about the implications for children in prison. The Law Society, the EHRC and the then chair of the JCHR have all expressed their deep concern about the diminution of human rights protection represented by these clauses. The EHRC, in particular, warns that there may be an impact on the UK’s international legal obligations.

The Constitution Committee sets out the government justification for these clauses in the human rights memorandum on the Bill, but invites us to seek further explanation from the Government as to what effect they intend to achieve with the disapplication of Section 3 of the Human Rights Act. According to the memorandum, the intention is to ensure that the HRA does not get in the way of the policy intentions of the release regime. In other words, it seems to be saying that human rights should not trump government policy. No evidence is provided to justify the need for this diminution of human rights, and of course the clauses were not subject to pre-legislative scrutiny.

In his response to the Second Reading debate, the Minister seemed to say that all the organisations expressing concern are making a mountain out of a molehill because Section 3 of the HRA is “a procedural provision only”. He argued that it gives the courts an

“unusual power to reinterpret what Parliament has said in a manner that may not have been and probably was not Parliament’s original intention so as to render a particular provision compatible with the convention”.—[Official Report,23/12/23; col. 2135.]

This, he suggested, was a “neutral” description of the function of Section 3.

I am grateful to Amnesty for its help in making sense of what the Minister said, although it would be the first to emphasise that its analysis is in line with that of the independent Human Rights Act review, established by the Government. It questioned whether this was a “neutral” interpretation of the role of Section 3. The reference to reinterpreting legislation seemed to suggest that there is one legitimate act of interpretation, which is then challenged by a second questionable one under Section 3. But this interpretation is itself highly questionable. I am advised that Parliament intended for Section 3 to be used in the way that it is. There is no reason to think that Section 3 interpretations lead to interpretations that are “probably not” in line with Parliament’s original intention, as confirmed by the Human Rights Act review, even if that was not the view of one member of the commission cited by the Minister.

More practically, and I think for the first time in this context, the Minister suggested that it has been a difficult section to apply, with the case law having “gone all over the place” and the introduction of uncertainty where the Government want certainty. I am advised that while this may have been true of when Section 3 was first brought into force—although “all over the place” is a misleading description—that period has long passed and the legal issues around it have not substantively changed for the past decade or so. As the Minister acknowledged, it has “settled down more recently”. So having been in effect for 20 years, it is not at all clear why its continued function would create the kind of complexity and uncertainty the Minister fears.

If the Minister cannot come up with a more convincing case for the disapplication of Section 3 from a group of citizens for whom the protection of the Human Rights Act is especially important, given their relationship to the state, I certainly think that these clauses should not stand part of the Bill. I have yet to hear any argument that justifies this further breach of the principle of the universality of human rights.