NI Bill Of Rights Wins UK Backing

As the Stormont Justice Minister David Ford (pictured here) vowed to reshape the region's justice system to fit the needs of the people of Northern Ireland, human rights commissions across the UK have backed a proposed Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

It emerged today that rights' groups in Glasgow and London said moves to create similar British legislation should not delay the process in Northern Ireland.

They said that the coalition at Westminster has passed the question of whether to introduce a British Bill of Rights supplanting the European Convention on Human Rights to an independent commission and a statement from the three commissions - including that in NI - was unequivocal.

"The three UK national human rights institutions agree that the establishment of a UK commission to investigate the possible creation of a British Bill of Rights must not delay the process of implementing a separate Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland," it said.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in December 2008 has already presented its advice on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland to the Stormont Government.

It made recommendations for inclusion like: the right to equality and prohibition of discrimination; education rights; freedom from violence, exploitation and harassment; the rights of victims; the right to identity and culture; language rights; democratic rights; right to liberty and fair trial rights.

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Monica McWilliams said: "On this issue the three United Nations accredited national human rights institutions are totally agreed."

The issue is being debated at today's Future of Human Rights in the United Kingdom conference in Belfast where David Ford, the NI Justice Minister outlined how devolution presents a new opportunity to look for solution to problems in the best interests of Northern Ireland, and not just adopt what has been done in England and Wales.

And he said that human rights in Northern Ireland must be focused on the development of a shared community which respects individuals.

David Ford said: "Justice, human rights and the impartial rule of law are all interdependent and any new policy initiatives from the Department of Justice will reflect that.

"I know the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will be keeping a watchful eye on whatever proposals the Department will bring forward and I welcome their views as we seek to make use of our new opportunities."

Meanwhile, David Ford has also ruled out any costly overhaul of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Answering questions from journalists in the wake of the publication of a report into Billy Wright's murder inside the Maze Prison, Mr Ford told UTV that the sweeping Patten-style review recommended by the Billy Wright inquiry would be too expensive "in the difficult financial circumstances that the public purse in now in".


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