Joint Committee on Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 14

Memorandum by the Inland Revenue

Q1.   What efforts has the Department made so far to implement the Act and in particular to build a Human Rights culture?

  In the two years leading up to the coming into force of the Human Rights Act the Department planned for implementation by appointing a human rights co-ordinator who worked with senior managers and officials across the department with responsibility for policy, operations and human resources to draw up and implement a comprehensive HRA Action Plan. Key elements of the Plan included:

    —  the examination of all existing legislation, policies and procedures to check for ECHR compatibility;

    —  introducing systems to ensure all proposed legislation, policies and procedures are checked for ECHR compatibility;

    —  identifying human resources issues on which the Human Rights Act may have an impact;

    —  a training plan which identified the level of training needed for specific areas of work; and

    —  a communications strategy to raise awareness amongst staff and identify the key messages to send to all staff to help bring about a human rights culture.

  In taking these issues forward we have worked closely with Customs and Excise, in line with wider moves towards closer working between the two departments. We have also consulted other departments as necessary, most notably the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's department.

Q2.   How has the Act affected the department's approach to human rights issues?

  Prior to the enactment of the Human Rights Act the department's general approach to human rights issues could perhaps be described as reactive—in so far as we dealt with challenges under the ECHR as they were made—making necessary changes to legislation as a result of Strasbourg Court decisions on UK tax matters.

  The department now adopts a pro-active approach to human rights issues. Human rights thinking is now embedded in the process of new policy formulation and as a result of the training and awareness-raising programme operational staff are alert to the human rights of our customers.

  All staff have access to guidance and information on human rights issues through a dedicated website on the Inland Revenue intranet and through the publication of "human rights contact points" to deal with human rights issues in specific areas as they arise.

Q3.   What have been the consequences both for policy formulation and the delivery of services?

  The coming into force of the Act provided the department with the opportunity to review all its legislation and procedures to check for compatibility with Convention rights. In many cases this process highlighted areas which, whilst not necessarily in contravention of Convention rights, would benefit from a critical review.

  For the formulation of new legislation, policy and procedures we have put systems in place to ensure human rights issues are considered as part of the process. The outcome of this is that new policies or changes to operational service delivery are not put forward for approval by Ministers and/or senior managers until any human rights issues have been resolved. Whilst this in itself creates additional resource issues, we believe in the long run this results in better policy making.

  The Act has strengthened our commitment to good customer services by reinforcing that all our customers are treated equally and not discriminated against.

Q4.   What have been the implications for the Department of any court judgements on Human Rights matters since the Act came into force last October?

  We have had a judicial review case—ex parte Morgan Grenfell & Co Ltd, where Article 6 and Article 8 issues were considered. Both the Court of Appeal and High Court upheld the Inland Revenue view in this case. In addition we have had a challenge to a criminal prosecution following investigations by Inland Revenue in Scotland (where the Convention Rights were incorporated as part of the Devolution settlement) on the grounds of unreasonable delay in bringing the case. In three other such cases Crown Counsel decided that they should not be taken to court because a challenge on unreasonable delay grounds would most probably have succeeded. There are additionally a number of pending Court hearings—which have been reported to Jonathon Tross in the Constitution Secretariat, Cabinet Office—which may ultimately lead to changes in some of our internal procedures—although we do not anticipate these will have a major impact on the department.

Q5.   What impact has the Act had on everyday life in your fields of responsibility?

  The impact of the Act on everyday life in the Department has manifested itself in the fact that human rights issues are starting to be considered as a matter of course by Inland Revenue staff—whether involved in dealing with customers, formulating policy or acting as managers. The very presence of the Act has, we believe, had a positive impact on our dealing with customers and is contributing to our efforts to fulfil our commitments on diversity and equality.

  A comprehensive audit of the legislation policies and procedures that the Inland Revenue has responsibility for was undertaken prior to 2/10/00, to assess whether these were compatible with Convention rights. The overall assessment was that these were compatible. In particular no provisions in the legislation for which the Inland Revenue is responsible were identified as requiring immediate amending legislation. There are one or two provisions of a relatively minor nature which may be amended in due course to ensure they are in line with Convention Rights. In a number of other areas it is recognised that the position post 2/10/00 will be further clarified by the Courts.

  A key part of the work of the Inland Revenue involves tackling non-compliance through enquiry and review work. Changes have been made to procedures for authorising surveillance and the use of informers in the course of tax compliance work—as a direct result of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) rather than the Human Rights Act. The new record-keeping systems that this involves are proving somewhat labour intensive, with a significant resource impact. We recently had a very useful meeting with the Surveillance Commissioners Office to discuss the Surveillance activities undertaken by the Inland Revenue and the control systems we have adopted in response to both the HRA and RIPA.

  The Inland Revenue has not made any other significant changes to operational procedures. We may however face possible changes to procedures, particularly in tax compliance work as the result of Court decisions and this could have a negative effect in terms of operational efficiency.

  On balance, we feel the overall impact on everyday life has been positive, making all staff at all levels in the organisation think "human rights" before acting.

Q6.   How have you addressed (where it has arisen) the duty under section 19 of the Act to make statements of compatibility or non-compatibility with the Convention in relation to Government bills?

  To date the Inland Revenue has been in the lead on three Government Bills that have required a S19 statement. In addition we work closely with the Treasury and Customs and Excise to ensure the duty to make a S19 statement is carried out for the annual Finance Bill. We are also following best practice, as set out in Home Office guidance, on S19 statements for secondary legislation.

  All new legislation is vetted by Inland Revenue lawyers throughout the policy process who ensure appropriate advice is given to Treasury Ministers to enable them to make the required S19 statement.

March 2001


 
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