Six QCs selected to probe need for UK Bill of Rights

The Government has selected six heavyweight silks to sit on an independent commission to examine whether there is a need for a UK Bill of Rights.

The commission, headed by former Permanent Secretary Sir Leigh Lewis, will look at the Human Rights Act and decide whether it properly reflects British freedoms. It is expected to report back to the Government no later than by the end of 2012.

The six silks are: 8 New Square’s Martin Howe QC; Blackstone Chambers’ Anthony Lester QC; Devereux Chambers’ Jonathan Fisher QC; Doughty Street Chambers’ Helena Kennedy QC; 4 Pump Court’s Anthony Speaight QC and Matrix Chambers’ Phillippe Sands QC.

The terms of the commission state that there will be no withdrawal from the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), despite political tension about the European obligation. Instead it will look to “incorporate and build on” ECHR obligations and “ensure that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law”.

However, it will advise on the Interlaken process to reform the Strasbourg court ahead of and following the UK’s chairmanship of the Council of Europe.

Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke said: “The commission has a very important role to play in examining the operation of the European Court of Human Rights and how we implement human rights in the UK.

“I hope that this work will help to inform the debate on human rights at home and assist us as we continue to press for reform of the Strasbourg Court. I look forward to receiving their recommendations.”

The silks:

8 New Square’s Martin Howe QC

Specialises in intellectual property  European Community law, data protection and commercial and public law. Keen supporter of a British bill of rights. Contributed to a paper for the Society of Conservative Lawyers concluding: “A British Bill of Rights would be much clearer to interpret and avoid political and utilitarian judgments. It would strive particularly to protect rights shown to be of historical importance in this country, such as relevant provisions of the Bill of Rights 1689, habeas corpus and judicial independence.”

Blackstone Chambers’ Anthony Lester QC

Liberal Democrat peer with a strong public law practice, has a long history in the human rights field. Between 1974 and 1976 he was special advisor to the then home secretary Roy Jenkins MP, with responsibility for policy advice on human rights.

Devereux Chambers’ Jonathan Fisher QC

Specialises in tax investigations, disputes and disclosures; proceeds of crime; business crime and corporate defence; commercial and investor fraud; financial services regulation. In 2006 Fisher wrote a paper for the Conservative  Party on the Human Rights Act, concluding: “It is high time that a British Bill of Rights and Obligations is enacted, in order to  restore the balance between individual rights and individual responsibilities.” Also past chairman of research for the Society of Conservative Lawyers

Doughty Street Chambers’ Helena Kennedy QC

A top criminal silk with who has held a series of public appointments including: current chair of legal reform group Justice; past Chair of the British Council and Chair of the Human Genetics Commission. Currently Investigating Officer of the Human Trafficking Commission in Scotland.  Sits in the House of Lords.

4 Pump Court’s Anthony Speaight QC

Has a wide commercial practice with an interest in the relevance of public law to construction work. Acted in judicial review proceedings concerning the construction of the channel Tunnel Rail Link. Contributed to a paper for the Society of Conservative Lawyers, stating:  “There is now an increasing acceptance that human rights should inform European law. Turning to the specific status of the Convention and effect upon it of a new Bill of Rights, it is clear that the Convention is a treaty which is incorporated but not entrenched in domestic law.”

Matrix Chambers’ Phillippe Sands QC

UCL Professor of Law and Director of the Centre on International Courts and Tribunals in the Faculty. Well respected in the field of international law and has done significant research in areas involving human rights.