The Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights recently (14 February 2022) published its report after almost two years of engagement with a wide range of experts in human rights and constitutional law, including those who have helped shape a bill of rights in other jurisdictions.
Set up following the publication of the New Decade New Approach agreement, the Committee was tasked with examining the creation of a bill of rights here. Although many Committee members agreed with the creation of a bill of rights in principle, further work and discussions are required to establish and agree next steps.
Committee Chairperson, Emma Sheerin MLA said:
The subject of a bill of rights here has been discussed and debated by many people over the years, and I recognise that some may be disappointed that we were unable to agree a way forward. However, as a Committee, we are pleased to have contributed to the wider conversation about human rights and equality here, and trust that our detailed and thorough consultation, research and report will help and assist future work and negotiations.
As specified in New Decade, New Approach, a panel of five experts was to be appointed jointly by the First Minister and deputy First Minister. Many of the Committee's discussions were subject to prospective advice from this panel and therefore it was a source of immense disappointment and frustration that the panel was not established.
We are very grateful to the insight and expertise of those who engaged with us in our work, particularly those with experience of bills of rights in other jurisdictions; academics specialising in inter-culturalism and anthropology; non-governmental organisations, trade unions, civic society and individuals.
One of the highlights for the Committee has been listening to the views of people who live here and hearing about their experiences. We were very pleased with the high level of engagement we had throughout, helping to ensure that the views of all communities and minority groups were represented.
The Committee's report details its work since February 2020, and consists of many important findings, including: a timeline history of a bill of rights; the Committee's approach in its consideration of the creation of a bill of rights; detailed analysis of the consultation and call for evidence; and political party positions.
Notes to Editors:
Establishment of the Ad hoc Committee
Ad hoc committees are occasionally set up by the Assembly to look at specific time-bound issues. When these committees are set up, the Assembly sets the terms of reference for them, as well as who the members will be and how the committee will operate.
On 24 February 2020, the Assembly established the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights, with the following terms of reference:
That, as provided for in Standing Order 53(1), this Assembly appoints an Ad Hoc Committee to consider the creation of a Bill of Rights as set out in paragraph 28 of Part 2 of the New Decade, New Approach document; and to submit a report to the Assembly by 28 February 2022.
- Further information about the Committee's work on a Bill of Rights can be found on the Committee's webpage.
The Committee has seven members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of five members. The Committee agreed that where Members were unable to attend meetings they could nominate MLA colleagues (deputies) to do so in their place.
The membership of the Committee is as follows:
- Ms Emma Sheerin MLA (Chairperson)
- Ms Paula Bradshaw MLA  (Deputy Chairperson)
- Mr Alan Chambers MLA 
- Mr Paul Frew MLA 
- Mr Mark Durkan MLA
- Ms Carl N Chuiln MLA 
- Mr Christopher Stalford MLA
 Ms Kellie Armstrong MLA attended the Ad Hoc Committee in her capacity as Ms Paula Bradshaw's deputy on 8 October 2020
 Mr Mike Nesbitt MLA was a Member of the Committee between its inception and 28 May 2021 and served as its Deputy Chairperson during this period. Mr Doug Beattie MLA was a Member of the Committee between 29 May and 22 June 2021.
 Ms Michelle McIlveen MLA was a Member of the Committee between its inception and 4 June 2021. Stephen Dunne MLA was a Member of the Committee between 5 June and 13 September 2021.
 Mr John O'Dowd MLA attended the Ad Hoc Committee in his capacity as Ms Carl N Chuiln's deputy between 18 June and 18 December 2020.
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