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Lord Kingsland: The wonderful thing about participating in a debate on human rights when the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is present is that he does almost all one's work for one. I should add only that I agree entirely with his analysis. We support Amendments Nos. 149 and 151.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am sorry to be disappointing because this is the last amendment of the evening but my noble and learned friend Lord Archer and the noble Lord, Lord Lester, are right to assume that I shall adhere to the policy which was adopted in our many long debates and discussions in the Chamber and outside it over many months, if not years, on the Human Rights Bill.
As has been rightly indicated, Amendment No. 149 would enable the commission to bring cases on its own behalf and to seek restraining injunctions if a person were likely to engage in conduct which would lead to a persistent breach without having a specific victim. We believe--and this is the theme on which we have expanded in the Human Rights Bill context--that breaches of human rights affect individuals and are best judged by their effect on the individual. If the commission wishes to test a point in court, it would not be difficult in practice to find someone who had been adversely affected and therefore fell within the victim bracket. That is the policy that we have adopted on the Human Rights Bill. I cannot expand on the policy reasons because they have been expanded at length if not ad nauseam on many previous occasions.
Amendment No. 151 relates to Clause 56. As drafted it is designed to keep the Northern Ireland Bill in line with the approach to the bringing of proceedings that the Government have adopted in the Human Rights Bill. As both noble Lords indicated, that does not allow an individual to bring proceedings unless that individual would be a victim for the purposes of the convention. The exceptions to the rule in this Bill relate simply to the Attorney-General, the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and the Lord Advocate. It is a very limited exception; namely, when they need to bring devolution proceedings under Schedule 11 in respect of legislation or actions which are or may be contrary to the convention. If this amendment were accepted--and I am not able to accept it for the reasons I have shortly given--that would add to the list of persons who could bring victimless proceedings. We have decided in the past to resist that approach. Consistency is not always the hobgoblin of lesser minds, but on this occasion I have to be consistent.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Before the noble Lord sits down, dealing with the principle of consistency, is there any consistency in allowing the equality commission, with the powers it inherits from the EOC and the CRE, to bring proceedings for persistent discrimination without there being an individual victim, while not empowering the human rights commission or the equality commission to do so? Where the persistent discrimination is religious discrimination arising under the Human Rights Bill, will the noble Lord consider whether consistency might not suggest in that narrow area--I take the point about human rights violations generally--that there should be a power to seek an injunction where the discrimination is arising under the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973, as embodied in this Bill, where one is dealing with government discrimination, as it were, by public authorities of one kind or another?
Lord Hylton: Before the movers of either of these amendments decide to do with them, could I as a non-lawyer raise a small point? I have noticed that no one this evening has mentioned a thing called an amicus curiae brief. As a non-lawyer, I am not at all clear what that involves or entails, but I wonder whether it could be at all helpful to the subject matter of either of these amendments.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: We only have an amicus brief if there are proceedings already extant. On the scheme that we offer there are not likely to be any extant proceedings. An amicus is certainly able to address the court. Our experience has been that certainly on judicial review the higher courts have extended the ambit of who can properly address the court; but that depends, alas, on getting your proceedings off the ground--and you cannot at the moment on our scheme. Therefore an amicus, however friendly, is not going to be available to assist the court.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: Before the noble Lord sits down, that was not, I think, what was said by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the Human Rights Bill, when he dealt with the victim point by saying that, although he was sticking to the narrow victim test, he hoped that the courts would take a generous view of amicus representations, which would help to tackle the problem. I wonder whether the noble Lord would be kind enough to look again at what was said in the--he said "years" but I think it was only days of--debate on the Human Rights Bill in that respect.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: It was days of debate and years of discussion. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has the scars of the years of discussion more than I have. The Lord Chancellor, as I recall it, was not suggesting that one could sidestep the necessity for a victim by simply having an amicus. As I understood it, what he was doing was endorsing and welcoming the fact that the courts are much more flexible and open-minded about giving--this is almost a contradiction in itself--a locus to an amicus in a particular instance.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: The possibility of the amicus role was discussed in another place. I do not propose to embark on it tonight, but it may be something to which we would wish to return at a later stage of our deliberations.
I confess to an element of disappointment because consistency is certainly one of the qualities which I would happily accord to my noble friend. Tonight he has been somewhat selective in the matters on which he wishes to be consistent. One inroad into his consistency has already been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Lester. I would have thought another matter on which his consistency was in some doubt was that the exception for law officers must be based on the fact that
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