Summary of the JCHR concerns from British Irish Rights Watch
Joint Committee on Human Rights | 24 January 2005
On Monday 24th January the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a parliamentary committee made up of members of both Houses of Parliament which monitors the compatibility of legislation with the European Convention of Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998, published its report on the Inquiries Bill.
The Committee expressed a number of concerns about the suitability of the Bill's provisions when it comes to providing an effective investigation in cases involving the right to life (Article 2 of the Convention) and the right to freedom from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 3). Their concerns are highlighted in bold by the Committee themselves. In relation to the right to life, the Committee makes reference to the case of Patrick Finucane.
In particular, the Committee has expressed concern about:
- the exercise of the Minister's power to suspend an inquiry and its potential to compromise the independence of an inquiry (paragraph 2.15 of the report)
- the risk that suspension would negate the requirement for promptness and reasonable expedition (paragraph 2.29)
- the power to issue restriction notices limiting attendance at inquiries or the disclosure of evidence or documents, which the Committee says could compromise the independence of the inquiry and violate Article 2 (paragraph 2.19)
- the possibility that restriction notices could impair an inquiry's effectiveness by limit public accountability and restricting the access of next-of-kin to the inquiry's proceedings, in breach of Article 2 (paragraph 2.26)
- the Minister's power over the publication of an inquiry's findings, which could compromise independence and the appearance of independence, and violate Article 2 - the Committee considers the inquiry chair should be responsible for publication of the report (paragraph 2.20)
- the Minister's power to withhold funding should the inquiry stray outside its terms of reference, which undermines the role of the chair and creates the potential for undue ministerial influence (paragraph 2.21)
- the Minster's discretion to appoint a person to an inquiry despite that person's interest in or association with the matters under investigation by the inquiry (paragraph 2.22)
- the possibility that family members might not receive legal aid (funding for legal representation) for inquiries (paragraph 2.28).
All these concerns apply to both the right to life and to the right to freedom from torture.
In sum, the Committee has expressed major concerns that the Bill as it stands is at odds with important human rights protections.