Enterprise Bill may violate human rights law

The Commons and Lord Joint Committee on Human Rights has issued a report drawing attention to concerns about the extent of new powers to disclose confidential information to other public bodies – particularly abroad – and interim orders against alleged rogue traders or the sale of suspect dangerous goods.

MPs said criteria for making disclosures should be contained in the legislation and be enforceable – not promulgated later in a more informal form.

They also want officials, considering making a disclosure, to be required to consider whether it was proportionate to a pressing social need for which disclosure was intended to address and they want – where it is for the purpose of an investigation – a requirement to consider if there are strong grounds for conducting an inquiry so as to prevent fishing expeditions.

The committee was responding to concerns raised in representations from the Confederation of British Industries and human rights group Justice. The CBI said disclosure decisions should be challengeable in the courts under the Human Rights Act.

Justice were particularly concerned that overseas public bodies could seek extensive information for the purpose of deciding whether to start an inquiry and not just for cases already under investigation and said the provision went beyond powers prescribed in the Anti-Terrorism Act.

It also wanted UK authorities to assure themselves that individual privacy would not be infringed by a further disclosure by the overseas body seeking the information.

The bill is now passing before the Lords after passing all its Commons stages.

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