Joint Committee On Human Rights Eleventh Report


27. It will ultimately fall to courts, in the United Kingdom and perhaps in Strasbourg, to decide whether the concerns which we have expressed in this report are well founded, or whether (as the Government argues) the provisions of the Bill are all capable of being put into effect in a manner compatible with Convention rights. We do not pretend that the issues which we have discussed here are easy as a matter of law. Nor do we dissent from the Government's view that it would be valuable to deprive people who are professional criminals (whether full-time or part-time) of the benefits of their criminal activities. We hope, however, that this report and our Third Report will have assisted the two Houses in evaluating potential human rights problems while scrutinizing the Bill.

28. We conclude by drawing attention to a matter of general importance to the work of Parliament. When the Government seeks to show that a policy or legislative provision does not interfere with a Convention right, or that any interference would be justified, it is understandable that it will often make statements about the purpose which the policy or provision is intended to serve, and the problem to which it is addressed. Such statements are essential when explaining how a measure is directed to achieving a legitimate aim under the ECHR, or why there is a pressing social need to take action, or why any interference is proportionate to the need. The statements may be directed either to the field covered by the policy or provision in general, or to its impact on specific cases or circumstances.

29. Part of Parliament's job in scrutinizing legislative proposals and policy initiatives is to consider and evaluate those statements. It is particularly helpful when the Government provides information (whether statistical or otherwise) to substantiate its statements. The Government has in the past been noticeably good at doing this, in response to questions from this Committee and others. Conversely, the weight which is likely to be given to statements is much reduced when no evidence is advanced to support a general proposition. Where this is the case, we are unable to give very much weight to them. We would encourage the Government to support with evidence its case for the aims which legislative proposals are intended to achieve as fully as possible in future. Its arguments can then be given due weight.

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Prepared 11 February 2002