How the Government responds to adverse human rights judgements
A recent article, written after the ECHR ruling on the DNA database, quoted a Guardian article that briefly outlined the approaches taken by the Government to human rights judgements that go against it, in particular contrasting Hirst v UK with Aslef v UK.
In Hirst v UK the court found that the general ban on prisoners voting in the UK was a violation of their rights. The government has made various proposals but, more than three years on, the law has still not been changed.
Legislative change happens more quickly when it is in tune with political will. Last year in Aslef v UK the court ruled that legislative change was needed to permit trade unions to expel members who belonged to the BNP or other political parties. Less than one year later amendments were linked to the employment bill, which is still going through the Commons.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights recently published a report, Monitoring the Government’s Response to Human Rights Judgements: Annual Report 2008, which looks at issues like this – and notes, disturbingly, that “there are a number of cases against the United Kingdom which have been outstanding for longer than five years”.
It seems that political expediency determines how and when a judgement will be responded to.
The Government published a response to the JCHR (318 Kb PDF) in January 2009. With regard to Hirst,
The Government remains committed to taking appropriate steps in respect of the judgement in Hirst, and to carrying out a second, more detailed, public consultation that takes account of the findings of the first stage consultation. The Government acknowledges that there has been a delay to the timetable originally envisaged for the conduct of that second consultation. The current intention is that the results of the first consultation will be published together with a second stage consultation document.
Since the judgment, [handed down in October 2005] the Government has kept the Committee of Ministers updated, including a detailed note in April of last year. A further brief update noting the Government’s position was submitted in October ahead of the December meeting of the Committee of Ministers’ Deputies. We will continue to keep the Committee of Ministers updated on our progress on this case, and have undertaken to submit further information in due course on the form and timing of a further consultation.
In implementing the judgment, the Government will need to take account of the wide spectrum of opinion on the issue, as well as the practical implications for the courts, for prison authorities and for the conduct of elections. The solution that we reach must respect the Court’s judgment, and must also respect the traditions and context of the United Kingdom. As noted in the April update, the Government will consider the outcome of the consultation and will bring forward legislation to implement its final approach as soon as Parliamentary time allows.
So far they have had three years and three months.