House of Lords Library

Citizens’ Assemblies: An Introductory Guide

Published Friday, February 8, 2019

This House of Lords Library Briefing summarises how citizens’ assemblies operate, recent experiences of them, and a selection of references to them within Parliament.

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There has been an increase in the use of citizens’ assemblies over recent years in the UK and Ireland. Assemblies have been set up to consider subjects such as English devolution, adult social care and a range of different matters in Ireland (including the abortion laws and climate change). These have been arranged by a range of bodies, including think tanks, academic institutions, parliamentary committees and, in the case of Ireland, the parliament itself. In addition, some people have recommended the use of a citizens’ assembly to decide how to proceed with Brexit. Indeed, the University College London’s Constitution Unit did lead a citizens’ assembly on Brexit in 2017, which considered the UK’s future relationship with the EU, particularly in relation to migration policy and trade policy. The public participation charity Involve has stated that citizens’ assemblies can provide a high profile way of analysing complex issues and offer policymakers an insight into public opinion. However, it has also stressed that running them can be challenging and expensive, and that there could be a danger of it being viewed as a publicity exercise if not followed by real outcomes. 

Lords Library notes LLN-2019-0017

Author: Russell Taylor

Topic: Constitution

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