The detailed coalition agreement published yesterday confirms the new government's commitment to human rights, and its intention to establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights. It also repeats the commitment to extend freedom of information legislation made in the outline agreement published last week.
The outline coalition agreement published last week was silent on the government's intentions regarding human rights, so this new commitment to establish a Commission provides a welcome indication of its proposals. Significantly, the Commission will investigate the possibility of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, that ensures "that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties". The government also committed to seeking "to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties".
This commitment therefore acknowledges the United Kingdom's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and it appears that any new legislation, which might replace or amend the Human Rights Act 1998, would continue to incorporate the Convention rights.
The coalition's plans regarding human rights may also link in with its other declared commitments, for example regarding the reform of libel laws and the deportation of accused terrorists.
Although no announcement has yet been made as to who will head the Commission or when it will be established and when it will report, Downing Street has reportedly indicated that Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke will be responsible for establishing the Commission.
The detailed coalition agreement also restates the government's commitment, stated in the outline agreement, to "extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to provide greater transparency", but there has been no further indication of the nature of the reforms which are envisaged.
We expect to issue further briefings on the British Bill of Rights Commission and on the government's intentions regarding the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in due course.