The Consultation Paper produced by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland appears to show a significant improvement compared to previous documents produced by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission1 and the Bill of Rights Forum2.
The major point of progress comes as a result of the UK-wide approach to human rights taken by the Government, which considers the implications that rights provided for Northern Ireland may have for the rest of the UK. This approach is to be welcomed and must be maintained in the future so as to avoid the adverse consequences of discrepancies in legislation between Northern Ireland and the other parts of the United Kingdom in relation to issues that have national relevance.
To a lesser extent there has also been progress in the attempt, though timid, to define the scope provided in the Belfast Agreement for determining supplementary rights to those provided in the European Convention on Human Rights.
It must also be acknowledged that the Government has rightly indicated that a Bill of Rights should only enshrine fundamental principles, giving a measure of flexibility to public authorities for their implementation by way of legislation.
However, there are a number of issues that must urgently be addressed by the Government in order to determine the rights supplementary to those of the European Convention on Human Rights and which may be approved for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Firstly, the criteria for additional rights must be clearly and unambiguously defined, which supposes taking into account the reality of the facts in relation to what has occurred in Northern Ireland over the past 40 years, particularly the terrorist campaign waged in order to achieve political objectives. Secondly, the supplementary rights that meet the criteria should then be determined in order to efficiently and effectively address the terrorist threat, continuing terrorist activities and the legacy of terrorism, primarily in favour of the law-abiding people of Northern Ireland. Thirdly, the implementation of the Bill of Rights should be carried out by public authorities and enforced by the Northern Ireland judicial system and should not be used as a means for lobby groups to advance their own agendas.
(Please read the complete submission to the Secretary of State in the section for submissions)