In its first phase (2010-2012) the project focused on parliaments and human rights and had two broad aims. The first was to assess how, if at all, debate about human rights in the UK Parliament had changed over the 10-year period between the setting up of the UK’s first parliamentary human rights committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, in 2000 and the end of the 2005–10 Parliament in May 2010. The second was to assess whether and, if so, to what extent courts have considered parliamentary debates about human rights when deciding human rights compatibility issues previously considered by Parliament.
The findings of the project’s first phase were published in an AHRC research paper, Parliaments and Human Rights: Redressing the Democratic Deficit (AHRC Public Policy Series No 5, April 2012).
The research team found that between 2000 and 2005 there were only 23 substantive references to reports of the JCHR in parliamentary debates, compared to more than 1,000 during the 2005-2010 Parliament. This suggests that by the end of 2010 parliamentarians were significantly more engaged in the sorts of debates about human rights that were previously the preserve of courts and lawyers.
The key finding of the research showed that while there has been a definite increase in the UK Parliament's involvement in debates about human rights over the last decade (and in the quality of that debate) there is still considerable scope for Parliament's role in this area to be enhanced. This central finding has important implications for parliaments throughout the world.The research also generated a downloadable and searchable database of parliamentary and judicial references to Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights which is also available on the AHRC website.