Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 37)

THE RT HON JACK STRAW, MP, MISS CAROLYN SINCLAIR AND MR MARK DE PULFORD

WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2001

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

  20.  Home Secretary, I fully accept that you rightly take credit for introducing the Human Rights Act and getting it through Parliament, and of course now our primary legislation has been interpreted in a way which is compatible with that Act and individuals can rely on the convention for their own rights. But can you in fact tell me, following on what Lady Whitaker asked you, why do I feel different from Joe Citizen in any way from last September? Can you give me any way in which in fact it has affected the individual?
  (Mr Straw) It has affected individuals in plenty of ways but they will vary according to whether or not their particular rights have been the subject of a degree of violation by a public authority. As I said, the implementation of the Act was not an event, it was the beginning of a dynamic process. I did not feel different when I woke on 2 October any more than did people in France suddenly felt different when the Fifth Republic was brought in. I doubt that very much. They may have got excited about it but they would not necessarily have felt differently. In this country the process of constitutional change has been very much evolutionalised. The only reason really why we have not had a written constitution is because we have had since 1689 a process of evolutionary change which is sometimes very rumbustious, whereas every other European country has been through a period of either very serious conflict by other countries on its territory or civil war or both, and that inevitably has led to the generation of explicit statement of how government should operate the context. As I say, I did not wake up on 2 October feeling particularly different. I do not think anybody else did, but what I hope is that over both a relatively short period of three or four years as well as over a long period people will become more aware of their rights in respect of the state.

  21.  And if you are a victim you will feel more important?
  (Mr Straw) Yes, and certainly in terms of what has happened in the last 20 years, especially since Victim Support got going, people are becoming more aware of the rights of victims inside particularly the criminal justice system, and the Human Rights Act I think helps to give that sense of the importance of victims a further push.

Chairman

  22.  Home Secretary, I dare say that the Act has affected us all in ways of which we are not aware. I dare say that the National Health Service has thought long and hard about things like "Do Not Resuscitate" being put into patients' notes, for example, as a result of the Human Rights Act, which is not something that we will necessarily all be talking about but may well impact upon our care when we are in hospital. Would you accept that it is very important that the rights which are embodied in this Act should not be so hemmed in by exceptions and duties and talk of responsibilities that they become devoid of content because if that happens we are never going to have a kind of major upheaval in this country in favour of the human rights culture?
  (Mr Straw) I do not think they are hemmed in. The rights, particularly the core ones, Articles 5, 6, 8, 10, for example, are necessarily qualified. You could not operate our society without qualifications and balances between the rights of individuals and the rights of a community that exist in those Articles. We could have decided to legislate our own interpretation of the Convention to say, "We write the Articles", or to say, for instance, "This is how you interpret this". We decided not to. We decided to build it into our written law and I think that is a sensible way to do it.

Mr Thomas

  23.  I am still not clear about something. Home Secretary, you have conceded earlier on that implementation is a process and not an event. I think from what you have said that you are considering winding up the Human Rights Task Force, although you have conceded that it has got some sort of continuing role. Which department in government is going to have the continuing responsibility, the over-arching responsibility, for ensuring that this implementation and development is an ongoing process?
  (Mr Straw) The Home Office, very clearly. But it is a cross-government responsibility.

  24.  So although you are mainstreaming and encouraging other departments to take it on board, you do retain an over-arching responsibility?
  (Mr Straw) Yes. Obviously the machinery of government is a matter for the Prime Minister, but you could argue either way whether this kind of responsibility should be in a big department of state which has got other direct functions or at the centre. I am not saying there is one answer to this at all. I would, however, say that there is no evidence at all that the arrangements we have had, which are that the responsibility has been one in the Home Office, has undermined the implementation and I would like to claim that in practice it has helped it. What you have had is Mark's unit being responsible for implementation within the department and across government. At the same time you have had the rest of the department having to work on how you implement this Act in detail in, say, immigration, in respect of the Police Service, in respect of the Security Services and so on. It has been a very tough lesson and what we have then been able to say to other departments is, "Look: if it is going to work in the Home Office, and there are services for which we are responsible where the issues are more acute than in almost any other area, and there is potentially a much larger number of cases, then it can work in your department", so it gives us kind of more authority.

  25.  Thank you for that. I was going to ask you about those public authorities outside Whitehall for which you are responsible. You mentioned the police, prisons and the security services. How well has implementation gone in relation to those authorities?
  (Mr Straw) I think pretty well. Certainly we have not done a detailed research on the extent of knowledge at an individual level, say, at the level of a police officer, but a huge amount of work went into it by us in co-operation with ACPO, the Police Superintendents' Association and the Police Federation. The police magazines, the Police Review and Police, contained and continue to contain regular articles about the impact of the Articles in a separate sense on police work and therefore, particularly on Article 5 and Article 6. There was discussion about whether, for example, we knew well in advance of the implementation of the Act whether the coming into force of the Act would require there to be full hearings of the evidence before bail was refused and so on which, as you know, had been a matter before the courts and which has now been dealt with. The Association of Chief Constables took a very close interest in it. One of their members, Peter Neyroud, who is Deputy Chief Constable of West Mercia, has written a book about the Human Rights Act, so there is a lot of interest in it as well. Can I just say, Mr Thomas, that I have no doubt that if you wanted to get a real take on that, you would want to talk directly to those involved.

  Chairman: Which we may well do.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  26.  I would like to ask you one or two questions about ministerial accountability to Parliament in the context of section 19 of the Act just to pave the way for my question so that one sees the context. I think you can claim some paternity for section 19 which requires ministers to sign compatibility statements on all primary Bills, a New Zealand idea, a holistic idea that makes it the responsibility of the three branches of government and not only of the judges and the executive, so there is a notion of ministers being accountable to Parliament for pending legislation, primary in that case, subordinate perhaps as well. We had a very good experience on the Committee when we were looking at the Criminal Justice and Police Bill which is being debated, I see, in the House of Commons at the moment. We had very full reasons given to this Committee to enable us to scrutinise points in the Bill that troubled us. The basic general problem is that at the moment ministerial practice in disclosing reasons for compatibility statements is very random and haphazard, in the sense that it depends upon whether issues are raised in debate or not, by whom, and which minister happens to be there at the time. If one looks at paragraph 14 of the Home Office Memorandum it sets out the Government's existing position. What it says is that the best way of dealing with this is during the debate on policy. It is sticking to the lines, that, as it were, you wait until the Bill is in either House and then the point is raised and the minister then deals with it. It then refers to a curious document, which is the Guidance to the Department produced by the Cabinet Office, which has on the front of it a bird that looks like the Liberal Democrat logo on Viagra, or maybe Ecstasy. In that document in paragraph 39 it says, "Ministers should give a general outline", and so on and so forth, and then it suggests that something might happen in support of legislation. The question I want to put is, surely now we have a Human Rights Committee this needs to be made systematic and not arbitrary, in other words should there not now be a system put in place across Whitehall in which whenever a government publishes a Bill or a draft Bill the reasons, but not the legal advice, of the kind that you have given us on the Bill I mentioned before, are as a matter of standard practice given either in explanatory notes on the Bill, which applies, therefore, to all Parliamentarians, or to this Committee in the first instance so that our legal adviser is able to do his job properly in drawing our attention to anything that me might wish to raise with you and, therefore, enable each House of Parliament to be properly informed. It seems to me that it is unsatisfactory to leave it to the random and haphazard way at the moment. When you have answered that may I ask you a similar question about subordinate legislation?
  (Mr Straw) I am in your hands, Lord Lester, in terms of the questions you ask me. On section 19 I, and a number of my colleagues, thought that having this arrangement would be a good idea, I was powerfully in favour of it, as you inferred. I thought that by the simple device of requiring a minister to say on the face of a Bill, when he or she presented that Bill to Parliament that they certified that either the Bill was compatible or that it was not compatible—that is quite an important part of it—that they would themselves individually be required to apply the Bill, whether or not it was compatible, and it would concentrate their mind. Then, in turn, the fact that a certificate appeared on the Bill would help to focus the debate on the human rights aspect of it. I have thought about what you say and, of course, we do not have a closed mind on this. I would just like to put the argument the other way, as to why we have come to this view. This is not to be dismissed as simply a Cabinet Office document. The guidance document has been developed by the Cabinet Office constitution secretariat in coordination with the CRP (EC), the Constitutional Reform Policy (European Convention) Committee. It is a Cabinet committee, but in practice it had a great deal to do with the Task Force and the Home Office. We are generous sometimes in terms of copyright. I think the point at which people are able to tease out whether a particular clause in a Bill, say in this Bill, is or is not compatible in the view of the minister is when the minister is available for interrogation on the floor of the House or in a Committee. To go down the road that you suggest would in practice, I think, I am not certain about this, either mean that we were repeating what was in the explanatory memorandum, which says what the Bill does, plus saying, "Well, in our view it fits in with the Human Rights Act and Articles 3, 5 and 6, we are clear about that", or it would require extensive disclosure of the legal advice available to ministers, either directly or indirectly. The first we do already and the second I am powerfully against. I would not be in favour of it and you would not get my colleagues in favour of it because it is a long standing rule that ministers are no more required to disclose legal advice given to them by law officers than any individual or corporation has to make available publicly or to any potential respondent or defendant to an action for the legal advice they have received. The law protects that very closely by professional privilege. Quite often with a Bill you can think that something is going to come up, both in terms of a constitutional issue or an argumentative issue and it does not. Equally, you find it is a dog that does not bark and in other parts of the Bill where you thought the dog was well sedated it suddenly pops up and bites you. It has to be a matter of debate. You asked about the role of this Committee. This Committee has an important role, but I would suggest that its role is not that of a substitute for the role of a special standing committee examining legislation. The final arbiter in our system of whether or not a particular part of a Bill or a Bill is not compatible with the Human Rights Act is none of us, it is the courts. We could go down the road, as I understand the French have, by which they have a constitutional court, and where there is a question a Bill may be submitted in draft to the constitutional court for them to adjudicate on whether the Bill as drafted is or is not compatible with the Convention. They do that in advance of going to the National Assembly. That is one way of doing it. It would require pretty substantial changes here, and I am not proposing it. In our system the current arrangements we have come to are pretty satisfactory because we are open to argument.

  27.  Thank you very much for that. Could I then ask you if you would consider with your colleagues, because I realise that it is a collective decision, these points, if this Committee is going to have to extract reasons from the Government on every Bill and you provide them, as you have very helpfully provided them, first of all, we will not be asking civil servants to do more work than they already do because in a well ordered system, which we have, your advisers will advise you, quite apart from legal advice, clause by clause on anything that they perceive to be controversial and why they consider that it is compatible. It is much more orderly and efficient to provide that material which is not duplicating and will not deal with legal advice any more than what your Minister of State, Charles Clarke, when he came to talk about the Police Bill, was revealing. Surely it is a complete waste of energy and hopelessly inefficient and random if we have to extract reasons from ministers, like pulling teeth, ad hoc on particular Bills, mainly in debates. Your points about the select committee and the courts, and so on, are they not beside the point? We are not taking over the role of select committees or either House of Parliament, we are simply one bit of machinery, if ministers would rather make these reasons available to select committee as well as to this Committee or in explanatory notes to each House of Parliament all of those techniques would be an orderly way of disclosing reasons. I would be very grateful if both in relation to primary and subordinate legislation the Government could think harder about ways of making themselves more accountable to Parliament and not only to the courts. The philosophy of your Bill, which I entirely approve of, is to engage all three branches of Government, and not only courts and the executive. At the moment the missing player is Parliament, unless Parliamentarians have the energy and skill to raise the questions ad hoc. Could those points be thought about?
  (Mr Straw) I will certainly think about them. I will consult colleagues, without making any undertaking about the conclusion we come to. I have given you what is the currently settled Government policy. As I have said, one's mind should never be closed on these issues because we are involved in a developing process. I do not accept your suggestion that at the moment the process is one that is tantamount to pulling teeth. I think it is tantamount to slipping out a plate of false teeth.

  28.  Could I give you an example. If I stand up in the House of Lords and ask questions, on the whole I manage to be sufficiently obsessional to get an answer if the minister is willing to co-operate. I have seen colleagues, for example Lord Campbell of Alloway, not one of my political colleagues, attempting with no success whatever to flush out from the Government their reasons for a compatibility statement. I find that unhealthy in a parliamentary democracy. That is why I am pushing you. I am not speaking only for myself on this issue, I hope I am not.
  (Mr Straw) I have not had the same complaint I have to say. Plenty of times I have it put to me, and I welcome it, questions about whether particular parts of the Terrorism Bill or the regulation of the Investigatory Powers Bill or the Political Party Elections and Referendum Bill, to name three, whether they are compatible with the Human Rights Act and I have been happy to provide answers. I think it would be a very poor minister who did not come, in any event, armed with the answer if the question was reasonably predictable. I do not accept the premise of what you are saying, that the current process is random, it is not random, it is no more random than the process of this Committee going through the Bill and saying we have questions about this. Those questions are based on what you and your advisers think are important. The questions that are raised with us before the House and the Committee are, again, based on what is thought to be important. Happily in this country, which is not the case in some countries, we do have some very energetic and expert non-governmental organisations. They are ever ready, and it is a very important part of our constitutional framework, to brief members of Parliament. Whatever criticisms people may have of me, and they are many, I do not think anyone criticises me for my lack of respect or concern about parliamentary process. I am committed to this place completely and committed to parliamentary accountability. I happen to think that the degree to which, in practice, we as ministers are answerable to this place is significantly greater than that which occurs in many European countries, it really is, and that is quite right. The Treasury dispatch box is both the greatest but the loneliest place in the world, particularly if do you not have the answer, and that too is quite right. I just come back to your first point, my difficulty is in working out how we can achieve the end which you, Lord Lester, seek without, in practice, disclosing the content of the legal advice we have received. I do not think that would be fair.

Chairman

  29.  Home Secretary, it is probably right to say our role is to advise Parliament on Human Rights in a focused and specialised way. We cannot do that without the measures you described. I do want to say that the Committee thought the way in which your Department responded to our questions on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill was exemplary.
  (Mr Straw) We will continue to respond to questions.

  30.  In order to help us to understand how your Department deals with compatibility orders if we take an example, last night the Terrorism Act Proscribed Organisations Amendment Order went through the House of Commons, I do not want to go into the merits of that particular order, but could you explain the process that was involved in framing it to help us to understand the way in which human rights implications were taken into account in relation to the policy issues and in relation to the precise drafting of it?
  (Mr Straw) What was passed last night was secondary legislation and it will be open to any relevant applicant to seek to have that piece of secondary legislation declared ultra vires by the court and if it were it would cease to operate, it is quite separate from the provisions of Section 4 of this Act in respect of primary legislation. It is secondary legislation. We have had to apply ourselves as to whether we have felt that the order which I put forward last night was intra vires not only the Terrorism Act but also this Act. How do we do it? It goes back to the drafting of the Act itself. One of the matters that we were aware of was that it was unlikely that if we kept to the previous practice, where there was simply a proscription of an organisation and then an order being passed by Parliament, that that would be within the provisions of the Human Rights Act. We were informed in that respect by the decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Chahal case, it was not identical, that was about whether the United Kingdom Government had acted within the Convention in a national security exclusion. That decision led directly to the establishment of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which is a body which hears appeals against my decisions to exclude people who have a right to remain on national security grounds. We drew that as a model and we proposed in the Terrorism Bill that there could be a right of appeal against a proscription order to a body called the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission. It is a process similar to that, the criteria is different, they are judicial review decisions rather than decisions on the merits. That is really how we did it. Having got that established then there was the issue of, was it appropriate for me to propose a proscription for each of those organisations, and in deciding proscriptions, as I said last night, I obviously have to apply some of the evidence, and that is intelligence in the main, which will have to go before the POAC if there are appeals. I went into a great deal of detail on the merits. I also had to think about the implications of Article 10, freedom of expression, and to some extent Article 8. When, and if, POAC comes to adjudicate on JR grounds on the decisions that I have made, they will not just take them on narrow grounds these days of Wednesbury unreasonableness but they will take them on wider grounds and take into account the Convention. That was very much in my mind when I was making those decisions.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

  31.  Can we turn to the courts, I think you and I probably agree, in the immediate future the real effect starts with the effect of the Act on the courts, both in its need to interpret primary legislation in accordance with the Convention and, secondly, undoubtedly, heightening the awareness of the rights of individuals who appear before tribunals and courts of all kind. Have you any evidence yet in the Home Office of what effect the Act is having in changing any situation? We know in Scotland that one dramatic effect was it was required to look at the whole way in which sheriffs work. Have we any similar situations in England?
  (Mr Straw) I do not think, speaking from memory, that aside from the issues raised in Alconbury, which is the planning case, which is very substantial and on which a decision is awaited from the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, I cannot think of any other case which has had quite such dramatic effects. I have already given an indication that there has been no discernible increases in delays in the Crown Court or Magistrates' courts. There has certainly been, I am told anecdotally, more argument on bail cases. For a period there was effort made by some people to argue that in every case where the provision of bail was challenged then full evidence should be adduced against the rather informal process that is already being done at the moment. That is now being dealt with. I have a note here which says the 204 Human Rights Act challenges surveyed by the Cabinet Office amount to less than 0.12 per cent of the total cases listed each month. The pattern of challenges are also becoming clearer, nearly 60 per cent are based on Article 6, Fair Trials, and 18 per cent on Article 8, Right to Private and Family Life. The challenges rely on other conventional rights but they are very small in number. I should say, however, we are obviously seeing quite a number of human rights challenges in the field of immigration law and that was bound to be the case both under Article 8, and occasionally under Article 3. The other one was the interpretation of what was Section 2 of the Crime Sentencing Act about exceptional circumstances.

  32.  In criminal trials, which are now taking challenges under Article 6, these were originally taken as abuse of process objections in any event, so there has not been a vast increase.
  (Mr Straw) If you wanted better evidence than I can give you need to ask people like David Calvert-Smith, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Criminal Bar Association. So far, as I say, we think it has lead to more argument. There was some anxiety by some magistrates about the initial effects. I have had fewer and fewer anecdotal reports to me, but it is still early days, it is only four or five months.

Mr Maclennan

  33.  Home Secretary, do you agree that it is really part of the purpose of incorporating the Convention to seek to diminish rather than increase the occasions in which our citizens actually have to litigate about these matters and that, really, our procedures ought to be targeting ways of diminishing the likelihood of legislation particularly, which is what we are so heavily concerned with, leading to challenges in the court? If you take that view, which I rather suspect you might, would it not assist that process to have a procedure whereby those issues which look, on the face of them, to be controversial in a human rights kind of context could be dealt with in a sense before the Bill is enacted and not on the basis of what may happen to be raised with the responsible minister by a particular member of a standing committee on a particular day? If in your answer to Lord Lester about the Government's settled policy on this the concern is about the revelation of the legal advice which has been given to the Government, can that not be simply circumvented by the explanatory memorandum, or whatever method is advanced by the Government to set out its views on these knotty questions being given the ministerial imprimatur, which means that the judgment is one resting on the political judgment of the legal issues by the Government and not the technical, if you like, arguments which have been filtered through ministers? It seems to me the reason for coming back to this issue is really it so much effects the way this Committee will have to do its work. We can obviously get around this by doing the job of asking all of the questions ourselves, but that would just put it at—
  (Mr Straw)I certainly said that I will think about. I do not think it will circumvent a rule which is essential for the proper functioning of any institution and that legal professional privilege applies to legal advice, simply by saying that the minister takes off the attorney's name or that of the Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers and sticks his name on it. What you can have is statements of the kind that we provided to you under this Bill which said, "This is what we are doing and we happen to think that it is compliant with Article 5(1) and Article 6(1)", and be assertive rather than argumentative. There is then the question of, is that simply stating the obvious, because if the ministers have an explanatory memorandum and the minister signs a certificate it is perfectly obvious if it is to do with the criminal process it is going to be Article 5 or Article 6 normally, it may be Article 8. I am sorry that time is short, can I just pick you up on your point about the random test, which goes back to what Lord Lester said, you could describe the way in which the common law has developed as random, because people go to court sometimes on all sorts of rather eccentric points and from those great law is developed. To take one example which every first year law student will remember, the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company. I doubt very much when the people who were putting together the advertisement for the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company they ever thought they would be not only selling some quack idea and making some money out of it, which was obviously the purpose, but they would, many decades and centuries later, see it becoming part of our living law. That was a pretty fly-by-night idea and somebody who was offended by it did not have to go to court—they could have just shrugged, probably as most people did, when the remedy did not work—but decided to and great law follows from it. Was that random? I do not think it was, it was about an individual asserting their rights. If you have a living law, which we do, then the points which are developed will not necessarily be anticipated in advance. What I am suggesting is that the equivalent to having Parliament, which is through the dialectical process by argument and debate, where people are concerned, is a very important part of that process. I am not saying push it away, what you and Lord Lester are proposing, but I am saying that that ought to be at the core of it.

   Chairman: In the very short time available to us, Home Secretary, I have two more questions that would like to be asked.

Mr Miller

  34.  How many challenges so far have been taken under the HRA against your own Department or it agencies to which you are responsible?
  (Mr Straw) I do not have the number in my head. Most of the points taken will affect the Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Attorney and the Immigration Service of a decision which I have made directly. We have a schedule made of cases which have come up. There are quite a substantial number of asylum appeals and we recognised that prospect by the change that we made in the appeal system, which was built into the 1999 Immigration and Asylum Act. We will provide as much information as we can.

Mr Thomas

  35.  There is a huge amount of interest in whether or not there should be a Human Rights Commission, can you tell us what the current thinking of Government is on that?
  (Mr Straw) The current thinking is that Government remains to be convinced on that. A question that I would go back to is, what would it do? That is a big question. It could merge the EOC and the CRE, that is one of the things you could do. That was the old idea of the Human Rights Commission. There is an argument in favour of that, although it is not one I am in favour of. We have a discrete choice. It could be there as a litigator, but I think that has the disadvantage of shuffling off the responsibility for human rights. Or it can replicate what this body is doing. I need to see, as it were, a better argument in favour of the Human Rights Commission, other than the idea that it is a nice warm idea that might do something. I am not sure that it would. The argument is there and we will look at it.

Mr Browne

  36.  Home Secretary, this question is a hybrid question, the number of challenges that would be in the field of immigration, crime or prisons are probably entirely predictable, that is what happened in Scotland earlier, and then here, but a better barometer of whether people are taking ownership of this Human Rights Agenda is the number of cases where the Act has had an impact in civil cases. Is there any indication that that is increasing and, if so, is it indicating that people are taking ownership? The second one comes back to the Section 19 statement, this is a fairly basic question, whatever the genesis of the Convention that the Government should threat legal advice in the same way as an individual can it certainly did not develop at a time when Government had a statutory duty to legislate in a way that is compatible with an international convention. The final point is this, is the Government not in a way actually revealing the advice by a Section 19 statement but just not revealing the reasoning behind the statement?
  (Mr Straw) First of all, there is no statutory duty for us to legislate in a manner which is consistent with the Convention, none at all. One can think of possible circumstances where a declaration of incompatibility had been made by the Judicial Committee or the Privy Council and Government and Parliament had decided to accept that. Down the track the Government might decide, it would be wise to get Parliament's approval for this. Or it would simply wait until a challenge was made in the European Court of Human Rights and it might then decide that the circumstances were so dire that they would have to enter a derogation from a particular Article, like Article 5 under the Prevention of Terrorism. It is an important part of all this. We are not required to legislate in this way, although I happen to think it is extremely desirable. In every Act I put before the House I have to be sure I am satisfied. The second point is, is it not tantamount to disclosing the conclusion of the Law Officers when a Section 19 certificate is signed. Well, you can have a pretty good guess as what the Attorney's conclusions were, but the certificate is the minister's and it is the minister who is signing it. As everyone here will know there are plenty of occasions when lawyers will say on one hand or the other you may want to take a chance on this or take a chance on that. If you happen to be a minister, as I am, who is argumentative and interested in the law then you may go back two or three times. I have not done that on a Bill but I have done it on some other issues and said, "We need to look at this a bit more and that a bit more". Then you can say, "Personally I am satisfied about this, having looked at it". It is about a personal statement. There is a world of difference when a big corporation goes into a court on a big case where they must stand to win or lose a lot of money it is a fair bet that they are acting on the advice of their lawyers and they are agreeing with their lawyers' advice. What they do not have to disclose is why. If they had to disclose it they would be offering a large part of their argument to the other side, including all sorts of weak bricks that the other side might not spot, and that would be more dangerous. I have given you an overall figure, 204, of human rights cases. The key one is Alconbury. There is an interesting horizontal case, Wilson and the First County Trust, where the Court of its own motion is considering the proportionality of a section of the Consumer Credit Act against money lenders who made technical errors in the credit paperwork. Then there is Ashdown and the Telegraph Group, where the Court, it says here, "effortlessly endorsed the Copyright and Patent Act as compatible". I think these, as it were, third party actions between civil parties, of which the Government is not a party, will be very interesting.

Chairman

  37.  I do not suppose that anyone thought that the first case could involve a lady who got her BMW and her money back. Home Secretary, can I thank for appearing before us today. It is entirely appropriate you should be the first Cabinet minister to appear before us given your responsibility for the Human Rights Act. Can I also thank Mr Pulford and Miss Sinclair and the officials you brought with you to assist the Committee.
  (Mr Straw) Thank you very much.



 
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