Human Rights Act has not had the anticipated
impact on the legal system in England and
Wales, a report commissioned by the Lord Chancellor
has revealed. Head of law Professor Clive
Walker carried out a survey at Crown, county
and magistrates courts, with Professor
John Raine of the University of Birmingham.
The Act was widely expected to spark
human rights challenges by defence lawyers,
increasing trial times and the courts
workload, said Professor Walker. In
fact, such challenges have been extremely
rare, and the Act has caused little disruption
to normal court business.
The main effect the researchers identified
was a 15 minute average increase in trial
time, caused by the requirement for magistrates
to articulate reasons for all their decisions.
While their conclusions may have been a relief
for court managers, the reports authors
do say it may be rather less reassuring
for those interested in seeing more of a human
rights culture developing in practice,
adding that, there is some distance
to be travelled until the Human Rights Act
achieves its full potential.
If the bill is to have any wider impact,
steps need to be taken outside the courtroom,
said Professor Walker. This could mean
requiring solicitors and lawyers to undergo
human rights training, as currently it is
only the better resourced or specialist firms
which are likely to have the ability to use
the Act to mount legal challenges.
idea of a human rights commission for England
and Wales is the subject of fierce debate,
although one has been established in Northern
Ireland and is proposed by the Scottish Executive.
Although it may be on the statute books, without
some kind of independent lead authority, the
Human Rights Act risks having little meaning