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International principles for domestic bills of rights processes

A report 'The Making of Bills of Rights: Relevant International Human Rights Law Obligations' was published in January 2023 by the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford. The report was the product of collaboration between the Bonavero Institute, the Bingham Centre, and the Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law at the University of Strathclyde to identify international human rights law obligations (IHRL) that would be relevant not only to the UK Government's Bill of Rights Bill (currently on hold), but also to debates about the possible introduction of bills of rights in the devolved jurisdictions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The report examines five IHRL obligations which are binding on the UK:

  • the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights;
  • the obligation to provide an effective framework of remedies;
  • the obligation to monitor and report on human rights;
  • the obligation to ensure public participation in shaping bills of rights; and
  • the obligation of non-regression in rights protection.

The report emphasises that, as the UK and the devolved jurisdictions of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales continue to consider how human rights ought to be protected, effort should be made to ensure proposals for reform promote compliance with the UK's international human rights obligations.

This research will assist with consideration of the UK Government's plans to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a controversial "Bill of Rights". If enacted in its current form, the Bill will change significantly the human rights framework in the UK. Many of the Bill's provisions embody proposals that are at odds with the recommendations of the Independent Human Rights Act Review commissioned by the Government, a recent inquiry by the Joint Committee on Human Rights and with the majority of responses to Government's own public consultation on the proposals. The Bill was introduced in Parliament in June 2022 and is currently on hold.

There have also been initiatives in the devolved jurisdictions to adopt human rights legislation where their competencies allow them to do so. In the case of Northern Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement stipulated the creation of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, with functions which include advising the UK government on the adoption of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The Commission published a report in 2008 recommending the introduction of a comprehensive Bill of Rights, but this has not yet come to fruition due in part to failures to secure a political consensus.

In the case of Scotland, a National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership published a report in March 2021 that recommended the adoption of a statutory human rights framework. It is to include the ECHR rights and incorporates a broad range of UN human rights treaties (ICESCR, UNCRC, CRPD, CEDAW and CERD) providing civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights as well the right to a healthy environment. The Scottish Government accepted the Report in full and is committed to conducting a public consultation and then introducing a Human Rights Bill to the current session of the Scottish Parliament.

In the case of Wales, the Welsh Government commissioned research in January 2020 to examine options to strengthen and advance equality and human rights in Wales. The findings of this research were published in August 2021, and advised that the Welsh Government should introduce primary legislation to give effect to international human rights in Welsh law through a Human Rights (Wales) Act. The report recommended that a human rights taskforce be established to bring forward detailed proposals for this Act.

The project was led by Professor Kate O'Regan (Bonavero Institute), Professor Alan Miller (University of Strathclyde) and Murray Hunt (Bingham Centre), and the principal researcher was Emma Rowland (Bonavero Institute). 

Researchers were assisted by an expert Advisory Committee which included several members of the Bingham Centre: Jeff King, Katie Lines, Lucy Moxham and Jan van Zyl Smit.

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