Liberty responds to Bill of Rights Commission

18 March 2011

Today the Government announced a commission to investigate another British Bill of Rights. The commission will explore the idea of a Bill of Rights that ‘incorporates and builds on Britain’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights [and] ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law’.

The commission includes an interesting mix of leading human rights and commercial QCs and will be chaired by Sir Leigh Lewis, former permanent secretary for the Department of Work and Pensions.

This announcement comes after a month of unprecedented attacks on the senior judiciary and the Human Rights Act from some politicians and parts of the media. 

The recent debate has involved a great deal of misinformation about the Human Rights Act

Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty, said: 

"Liberty hopes these fine minds will conclude that the Human Rights Act already provides a uniquely British Bill of Rights. It balances Parliamentary Sovereignty with the Rule of Law to protect every man, woman and child in this country. If the Commission introduces some common sense into a debate full of myth and spin, then it may be of some value. Liberty polling shows huge public support for a law protecting our rights and freedoms – but it also shows how little the public has been told by successive governments about the legislation that protects them.” 

Recent Liberty polling conducted by ComRes shows mass support (96%) for a law that protects rights and freedoms in Britain. Yet less than a tenth of respondents (9%) remember ever having received or seen information from the Government explaining the Act.  

Contact: Liberty’s press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831 128 

Notes to editors

1. The Commission will be made up of the following:


Sir Leigh is a former Permanent Secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions (2007 – 2011). He was appointed to the Home Office as Second Permanent Secretary responsible for Crime, Policing, Counterterrorism and Delivery. He has also held positions as the Chief Executive of the Employment Service and Chief Executive of Job Centre Plus.



Sir David Edward has been a Deputy Judge of the Court of Session in Scotland since 2004. He has a distinguished background as a silk specialising in commercial, employment, planning and European Community Law and has appeared in a number of high profile cases in Scotland, England and the European Court of Justice. He was a Judge in the European Court of Justice from 1992 until 2004 and has held also a number of high profile academic positions. He was awarded a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 2004.  



Jonathan Fisher specialises in areas of practice including tax investigations, disputes and disclosures, proceeds of crime, business crime and corporate defence, commercial and investor fraud and financial services regulation. He served on the Conservative Party’s Bill of Rights Commission from 2008 until 2010.  He is well known for his work in tax cases involving avoidance and evasion issues, money laundering compliance in the corporate and regulated sectors and asset forfeiture under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. He is a qualified Chartered Tax Adviser and also a Trusts and Estates Practitioner, accredited by the Society of Trusts and Estates Practitioners.



Martin Howe is a leading practitioner of intellectual property and commercial law.  He is a barrister at 8 New Square Chambers, the largest specialist intellectual property chambers in the United Kingdom.  Appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1996, he is a member of the Conservative Party’s Commission to create a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.  Recent cases have included SAS Institute Inc v. World Programming Ltd and Murphy v. Media Protection Services Ltd



Barrister Helena Kennedy is an expert in human rights law, civil liberties and constitutional issues. She is a member of the House of Lords, a bencher of Gray's Inn, President of the School of Oriental and African Studies and Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford. She has received honours for her work on human rights in France and Italy, and helped persuade the previous government to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into British law.



Lord Lester of Herne Hill is a leading silk in Human Rights & Civil Liberties and Administrative & Public law.  A peer on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Human Rights Awards in 2007. Lord Lester campaigned for 30 years to make the European Convention on Human Rights directly enforceable in British courts and introduced two Private Members’ Bills on the subject which became models for the Human Rights Act 1998.



Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky is a senior research fellow at Brunel University and an expert on political finance. He is also the president of the International Political Science Association’s research committee on political finance and corruption. Last month he authored Bringing Rights Back Home published by the Centre-Right think tank Policy Exchange. In this he argued that the British senior judiciary should be politically appointed and the UK should extricate itself from the jurisprudence of the Court of Human Rights.



Philippe Sands is a barrister at Matrix Chambers and a Professor of International Law at University College London. The author of Lawless World and Torture Team, he is a regular commentator on the BBC and CNN and frequently writes for several leading newspapers. He has a wealth of experience in litigating cases before both the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Justice.



Anthony Speaight, a commercial practitioner at 4 Pump Court, has extensive experience of technology and construction work, including related property litigation and professional negligence. He also has a specialist background in public, regulatory and disciplinary work, especially in relation to the financial services industry. Co-editor of Butterworths Professional Negligence Service, he acted in judicial review proceedings concerning the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.


2. Details about Liberty’s polling on the Human Rights Act 

3. Read Liberty’s Journalist's Guide to the Human Rights Act (PDF)

4. Read Liberty’s mythbusting on the Human Rights Act: Truth and illusion