7. Memorandum from JUSTICE
JUSTICE considers that there is a clear need
for a Human Rights Commission. Only a Commission can effectively
and fully realise the long-term societal and cultural change involved
in the incorporation of human rights standards in the United Kingdom.
The difficulties experienced in the initial implementing period
of the Human Rights Act, in the absence of a Commission, further
underlines the need for a central body with responsibility for
human rights promotion and protection.
These functions are not at present being discharged
by central government. A Human Rights Commission would have a
role distinct from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which
primarily acts as an advisor to Parliament and holds the government
to account. It would also have a role different from that of the
equality commissions and the office of the Information Commissioner,
which have specific mandates. It should not replace any of these
bodies, but should work closely with them.
The principal functions of a Human Rights Commission
to act as a provider of advice, education
and information on human rights to civil society and to public
and voluntary bodies;
to conduct public inquiries into
situations where there are human rights concerns;
to bring test case litigation, provide
representation and act as a third party intervener or amicus in
human rights cases.
A separate Human Rights Commission for Scotland
should be established. The question of whether there should in
addition be a UK-wide Commission, or alternatively a Commission
for England and Wales, working alongside the Scottish and Northern
Irish Commissions, requires further consultation. Either a UK
or an English and Welsh Human Rights Commission should have a
permanent office in Wales. Mechanisms will be needed to ensure
close liaison and co-operation among the Commissions.
Appointments to the Human Rights Commission
should be made by the Lord Chancellor on the advice of an independent
appointments committee. The Commission should be accountable to
the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
The Commission should be granted specific powers,
in its founding legislation, to conduct inquiries, to compel evidence
and witnesses, to make third party interventions, act as an amicus
curiae, and bring test cases in its own name.
JUSTICE is an independent all party legal human
rights organisation, which aims to improve British justice through
law reform and policy work, publications and training. It is the
British section of the International Commission of Jurists. Since
the enactment of the Human Rights Act in 1998, much of JUSTICE's
work has focused on its implementation in domestic law.
JUSTICE welcomes this inquiry and the opportunity
to make submissions on this key issue for the structure of United
Kingdom human rights protection. JUSTICE's work on the implementation
of the Human Rights Act, as well as its participation in the Home
Office Task Force, has confirmed its view that there is a clear
need for a Human Rights Commission. This paper outlines the reasons
for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission, and the functions
and jurisdiction it should have, following the questions posed
by the Joint Committee. It builds on the views expressed by JUSTICE
in its submission to the Joint Committee on the implementation
of the Act to date, which identified some of the shortcomings
of the initial implementation process. It should be read in conjunction
with those submissions.
A HUMAN RIGHTS
Whether or not a Human Rights Commission is
established is crucial to the development of the UK constitutional
and legal system. Important work has already been done to entrench
human rights guarantees in the UK, in enacting the Human Rights
Act, in taking the initial steps towards implementation through
the Task Force, and in establishing a Northern Ireland Human Rights
Commission. The Human Rights Act has instigated a highly significant
constitutional change, in moving the United Kingdom towards a
system of positive guarantees of rights, with human rights as
some of the core values of society and the legal system. This
legal and constitutional change also has broader societal and
cultural significance. It demands a new way of thinking about
the relationship of the individual to the State. It empowers individuals
to think in terms of asserting their positive human rights, and
places new duties on all those exercising public power, in whatever
sector, where they potentially infringe the rights of others.
This cultural change, and the process of embedding
human rights guarantees within the UK constitutional and governmental
structure, begins rather than ends with the coming into force
of the Human Rights Act. The change the Act brings about, both
directly, through the rights it incorporates, and indirectly,
through the impact of rights as they filter through society, and
the possibilities the Act opens up for the acceptance of other
international human rights standards, requires continuing management.
This is a large, long-term, permanent project, and one which only
a Human Rights Commission can effectively and fully realise.
Without a Human Rights Commission, it is likely
that the UK's conception of human rights will be an impoverished
one. The Human Rights Act will be viewed narrowly, as a legalistic
document to be developed primarily through litigation. In the
absence of a Human Rights Commission, the great opportunity presented
by the Human Rights Act may be missed.
It is JUSTICE's view that, at the time of the
enactment of the Human Rights Act, a Human Rights Commission should
have been established. The experience immediately leading up to
the implementation of the Human Rights Act justifies our initial
concerns. Implementation of the Human Rights Act suffered, because
there was not a sufficiently strong, well-resourced or focused
implementing authority. During the implementation period, the
Home Office Human Rights Unit and NGOs, in particular those involved
on the Home Office Task Force, were faced with a very large number
of requests for advice, legal assistance, training and information
materials. Although every effort was made to respond to this need,
they lacked the considerable resources required to do so comprehensively.
The result has been a general public that is largely either confused
or unaware about human rights, a public sector that is not fully
educated in its responsibilities, and a voluntary sector that
has been left without sufficient support or assistance.
Therefore, there is a need for a Commission
both in the long term, to manage the cultural and societal changes
envisaged by the Human Rights Act, and also more immediately,
to ensure the effective implementation of the Human Rights Act.
In addition, the establishment of a Human Rights Commission would
be a much-needed statement of commitment to and affirmation of
the aims of the Human Rights Act.
Question 1: what do you think a Human Rights Commission
might add to the current methods of protecting human rights in
the United Kingdom?
From JUSTICE's experience of working for the
implementation of the Human Rights Act, a Human Rights Commission
is a necessity, because of a number of essential missing elements
in the machinery of human rights protection. Broadly, although
the courts, government and Parliament all now discharge their
responsibilities under the Human Rights Act, the lack of a central
body with responsibility to promote and protect the broad panoply
of human rights is acutely felt. Invaluable though they are, the
existing equality commissions have closely defined roles, which
do not extend to cover even the full range of equality issues,
let alone other human rights issues. Furthermore, taken as a whole,
central government has shown a reluctance to be closely associated
with the Human Rights Act, and effective promotion of the Act
has not been consistent across all sections of government. Some
departments have welcomed the opportunity presented by the Act
whilst others have appeared less enthusiastic. Although important
work was done in implementing the Act by the Home Office Human
Rights Unit and the Task Force, these efforts were somewhat limited
by lack of resources. Since the winding up of the Task Force,
there is no single body which focuses on the protection and promotion
of human rights standards in the UK.
Although JUSTICE welcomes the new allocation
of human rights responsibilities to the Lord Chancellor's Department,
this will not in itself address the problems of implementation
and human rights promotion described here. In the past, when new
responsibilities have been placed on public authorities or employers
by legislation, new bodies have been established to assist and
advise them in discharging these responsibilities. This has been
the case, for example, in relation to equality legislation, and
the Data Protection and Freedom of Information Acts. JUSTICE considers
that similar action is necessary following the coming into force
of the Human Rights Act.
(a) Fostering a human rights culture
There has not to date been any comprehensive
or sustained public information or education service in regard
to the Human Rights Act. Lack of understanding of the Act has
been compounded by frequent misrepresentation in the media. A
Human Rights Commission could act not only as the key provider
of easily accessible information to the public on human rights
matters, but also as a forum for public discussion and debate
on human rights issues. This process of debate is particularly
important, since the Human Rights Act was not developed (in contrast,
for example, to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and
the South African Constitution) as an indigenous Bill of Rights
following a public consultation process. In the first place, for
the UK law of human rights to be developed and litigated appropriately
and well, it needs to be informed by public needs and concerns.
The Human Rights Act aims to develop a distinctive UK law of human
rights, from the application of international norms within a domestic
Secondly, for there to be ownership by the general
public of the UK's new and developing law of human rights, there
needs not only to be education on the human rights guarantees
we now have, but also the fullest possible debate on how a domestic
law of human rights should develop, in the context of our changing
society and emerging concerns. This is a debate which should not
be confined to an elite. The Human Rights Act will have failed
to realise its very considerable promise if it comes to be viewed
(as it has often been perceived in the media) as a foreign import
or as the preserve of self-interested lawyers. The effort and
commitment already made to the Human Rights project needs to be
taken forward to make it constitutional in the broadest sense:
a valued statement of principles that are respected and relied
upon by the people.
One of the most effective functions of the Human
Rights Commission could be the conduct of inquiries. Such inquiries,
along with inquiries by the Joint Committee, would have an important
function, in bringing to the attention of both government and
society areas of law and practice which raise human rights concerns,
and in stimulating debate about new areas of human rights protection,
such as the scope and implementation of socio-economic rights.
The particular role of the Human Rights Commission would be to
instigate public debate through its inquiries; for example it
could hold public hearings around the country and take evidence
from the public. This could be an important part of its role in
building a human rights culture, as well as raising matters of
legitimate public concern.
(b) Education in human rights
Education and public information provision on
human rights standards will be a continuing need, for public authorities,
the voluntary sector, and for the general public. Provision of
information is needed, not only in relation to rights and obligations
under the Human Rights Act, but also in relation to the developing
UK caselaw of human rights, as well as the range of rights guaranteed
under the international instruments to which the UK is party,
which will become of increasing importance as a result of the
Human Rights Act, and about which there is a relatively low level
The provision of Human Rights Act training to
the public sector has been one area in which JUSTICE has been
heavily involved. Although some government departments and public
authorities prepared fully for the implementation of the Act,
much work remains to be done to ensure that both the public and
the voluntary sector are fully prepared for the long-term impact
of the Act, through training and information. In particular, JUSTICE
is concerned that the NGO sector has to a large extent been unable
to access training and information in regard to the Human Rights
The expertise and support of a Human Rights
Commission would provide an invaluable resource for public authorities
in this regard. Although the Commission could not be expected
directly to provide comprehensive training for the public or voluntary
sector as a whole, it could play an important strategic role in
facilitating, supporting, and advising on Human Rights Act education,
for example in publishing training manuals and materials. It may
also be able to organise cascade training of particular sectors
(c) Advising and assisting people who claim
to be victims of violations of their Convention rights
The right of access to justice is both a key
guarantee and an important underlying principle of the European
Convention on Human Rights. It is also fundamental to the purpose
of the Human Rights Act that Convention rights should be made
a reality in the UK courts. This requires, at an initial stage,
access to information about the legal avenues available if someone
believes their rights have been breached. At present, although
NGOs and legal practitioners discharge some of this function,
there is no central public body equipped to be a first port of
call for people seeking advice. A Human Rights Commission would
be able to play an important role in this regard, in co-operation
with those already involved in the field. It could provide a telephone
information line as a central point of contact, providing information,
or referring callers to other appropriate organisations or public
The Commission could also provide legal representation
to individuals, in cases involving issues of public interest in
the field of human rights, where funding to bring the case is
otherwise unavailable. The Commission's role in this regard would
allow important test cases to come to court where they might not
otherwise do so, and thereby assist in the development and clarification
of the law.
(d) Developing expertise in human rights
An expert Human Rights Commission would be a
central resource for those already involved in the field of human
rights, as well as for those developing an interest in the area.
The Commission could provide an important forum for expert debate
and discussion on human rights, bringing together those with different
perspectives: legal practitioners, academics, parliamentarians,
campaigners, government officials and others.
(e) Bringing legal proceedings on human rights
issues in the public interest
The courts have a continuing and formidable
task in applying human rights principles in the context of domestic
law. Many difficult points have still to be resolved, and it is
likely that these issues will be dealt with and the law developed
gradually by the courts. It will aid certainty and assist in the
development of the law, if there is a body with the capacity to
provide expert advice to the courts on human rights issues.
Some of this function has been discharged by
human rights NGOs, through third party interventions and test
case litigation. Although the role of such NGOs will continue
to be important, a Human Rights Commission would be well placed
to act either as an amicus curiae, or as a third party
intervener in human rights cases.
In relation to test case litigation, the drafting
of the "victim test" in section 7 of the Human Rights
Act means that the capacity of NGOs to bring public interest actions
is restricted. JUSTICE has consistently taken the view that the
victim test in section 7 of the Act is unduly restrictive. We
consider that, ideally, the legislation establishing a Human Rights
Commission should amend section 7 of the Human Rights Act, to
allow the Commission, at least, to take cases in its own name
in situations where it considers there to be serious, systematic
human rights abuses. In situations where there is wide-ranging
systematic violations of rights, but where it may be difficult
to identify an individual victim or willing to bring a case to
court, the ability of the Commission to bring a case in its own
name would become important.
In the absence of any such legislative power,
the Commission could nevertheless, as we have noted above, assist
individuals to bring human rights actions.
Question 2: If a Human Rights Commission were
established, how should its role and functions relate to those
of the JCHR?
The JCHR and a Human Rights Commission would
have distinct though complementary roles, and would serve and
address different sectors. The JCHR's primary role is to act as
Parliament's human rights adviser, and to hold the executive to
account, through Parliament, for any action that is in breach
of human rights. Its establishment is an expression of Parliament's
responsibilities under the Human Rights Act to ensure that human
rights standards are taken into full consideration in the course
of the legislative process.
A Human Rights Commission's responsibility would
be broader and its role more public. Its focus would be the provision
of advice and information to the general public, as well as to
the public and voluntary sectors in relation to their responsibilities.
The Commission would stimulate debate on human rights issues of
public concern, and would be able to provide an interface between
the varied groups that engage with human rights protection. The
Human Rights Commission would also have an important role in the
courts, both as a litigator and as an advisor (acting as an intervener
or amicus curiae), a function which would be outside the
remit of the Joint Committee. The Commission would also be able
to hold inquiries for the benefit of the public. Commission inquiries
would aim to raise and address human rights issues of public concern,
whilst inquiries by the Joint Committee would be primarily intended
to hold the executive and public authorities to account.
It will be important that there is a close and
constructive working relationship between the Joint Committee
and the Human Rights Commission,
and co-ordination and co-operation in their work. The scope of
operation of a Human Rights Commission would of course be affected
by the need not to duplicate the work of the Joint Committee.
In particular, the primary function in relation to the human rights
auditing of legislation should remain with the Joint Committee
on Human Rights, although the JCHR would be greatly assisted by
expert evidence and research from the Human Rights Commission
when assessing the human rights compatibility of legislation.
Question 3: In what order of priority would you
arrange the functions of such a Commission? To which issue or
issues do you think that the Commission should give priority?
JUSTICE would envisage the Commission as having
three broad functions: to act as a provider of advice, education
and training on human rights for all sectors; to engage in litigation,
provide representation and provide information to the courts on
human rights issues; and to conduct inquiries into situations
where there are human rights concerns.
Specifically, a Commission's functions should
include, in this general order of priority:
Advising and providing information
to the public on human rights standards, facilitating public debate,
and promoting understanding and awareness of human rights.
Advising and providing information
to government and public bodies on human rights.
Conducting thematic inquiries into
the protection of human rights in particular areas.
Acting as a third party intervener
or as an amicus curiae in proceedings before courts or
tribunals where human rights protection is at issue.
Bringing test cases on key human
Making recommendations to government
and parliament on measures to be taken to improve the protection
of human rights, including proposals for legislation, for adherence
to international conventions, and for reform of practice and policy.
Undertaking research and publishing
Participating in the scrutiny process
in relation to the UK's compliance with United Nations and other
human rights instruments.
JUSTICE is of the view that the Commission should
not have judicial or quasi-judicial powers to consider
complaints in individual cases where violations of human rights
are alleged. Such a power could be seen as at odds with the Commission's
role in bringing test cases, and in providing advice or legal
assistance to individual litigants. The Commission's work should
instead focus on informing the process of litigation before the
courts and tribunals, as well as other proceedings for redress
such as the Ombudsmen procedures.
The Commission should have the power to direct
its own work programme, within the remit provided for by its founding
legislation. The Paris Principles state that a Human Rights Commission
should have the power: "freely to consider any questions
falling within its competence, whether they are submitted by the
Government or taken up by it without referral to a higher authority,
on the proposal of its members or of any petitioner."
In accordance with the Paris Principles, it
should be specifically provided that the Commission should have
a broad remit to consider the protection of all internationally
recognised human rights standards within the UK, and to propose
development of standards and adherence to additional human rights
instruments. Within this, it will be for the Commission to prioritise
Initially, the Commission will need to give
priority to issues concerning the implementation of the Human
Rights Act. However, the Act should be addressed within the broader
context of the UK's international human rights obligations. The
prioritisation of specific issues will be for the Commission to
decide, on its formation.
Question 4: If a Human Rights Commission were
to be established, should there be a single body with a jurisdiction
extending to all parts of the United Kingdom, or separate bodies
for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or both a United
Kingdom body and bodies with territorial responsibilities?
The establishment of Human Rights Commissions
for the UK will need to take account of the devolution arrangements,
whilst at the same time avoiding unnecessary complication or overlap
in the jurisdictional competence of the commissions. The Northern
Ireland Human Rights Commission, already well established, should
of course continue in its present work, as is required by the
Good Friday Agreement. The distinct legal and political system
of Scotland means that a separate Scottish Human Rights Commission
would be appropriate; the need for a Scottish Commission is already
being investigated by the Justice Department of the Scottish Executive.
Given the lesser degree of devolution to Wales,
and the shared legal system of England and Wales, the arguments
for a separate Welsh Commission are probably not as strong. However,
some separate provision should be made for Wales, within either
a UK-wide Commission, or a single English and Welsh Commission.
A London-based Commission should have a permanent presence in
Wales, and it may be that one or more Commissioners should have
particular responsibility for the Welsh branch of the Commission,
with an office in Wales.
Workable models for Human Rights Commissions
can be found within the devolution arrangements for the UK. There
are two primary options:
There could be a Human Rights Commission
for the United Kingdom as a whole. This Commission would perform
all the functions of a Commission for England and Wales, and would
also have a role in Scotland and Northern Ireland, in relation
to non-devolution matters of general concern to the UK as a whole.
There could be a Commission for England
and Wales, alongside a Scottish Commission and the present Northern
Ireland Commission. The Commissions would work collegially, with
structures in place to ensure liaison and co-operation. Co-operation
could take the form, for example, of a Joint Committee (on the
model of that provided for in Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement)
with its Chair rotating among the Commissions.
There are attractions and disadvantages to each
of these proposals. A UK-wide Commission, existing alongside devolved
Commissions, would have the advantage of reflecting the devolution
arrangements. It would also ensure that there was an identifiable
UK central body with responsibility for human rights issues throughout
the country. However the second model, of a Commission for England
and Wales, alongside Commissions for Scotland and for Northern
Ireland, may provide a more straightforward solution, avoiding
overlap and conflicts of responsibility and authority between
the various bodies. It may also be the best way of ensuring ownership
of human rights issues within the different parts of the UK.
JUSTICE considers that either of these models
could prove workable and effective. Both these models (and the
question of separate arrangements for Wales) should be put forward
for public consultation, which will be of particular importance
on this question.
Whichever structure is adopted, it will be important
to establish mechanisms of co-operation and communication between
all of the Commissions, to ensure co-ordination and information-sharing
among them. This will be particularly important if no single UK
Commission is established.
Question 5: If there were to be a Human Rights
Commission with responsibilities for the whole United Kingdom,
what relationship should there be between its work in respect
of Northern Ireland and the work of the NIHRC (and similar Commissions
in Scotland and Wales if they are established at some time in
If a United Kingdom Human Rights Commission
were to be established, then its jurisdiction should reflect the
current devolution arrangements. The devolved Commissions should
have primary responsibility in relation to human rights issues
and situations particular to Scotland and Northern Ireland. However,
where there are human rights issues common to the UK as a whole,
or where human rights concerns arise out of UK legislation, then
a UK Human Rights Commission should have primary responsibility,
working in co-operation with the devolved commissions where appropriate.
Question 6: If a Human Rights Commission were
established, how should its work relate to that of other bodies
with special responsibility for particular rights?
In JUSTICE's view, a Human Rights Commission
should not replace or absorb the existing equality commissions
or the office of the Information Commissioner. The role of these
commissions is important in providing a specialist focus, although
the specific nature of their remits will mean that some issuesfor
example discrimination on the basis of age or religionwill
still remain to be dealt with by a Human Rights Commission. Equality
issues should not be specifically excluded from the remit of a
Human Rights Commission, since clearly equality and discrimination
issues will arise in the course of the Commission's work in cases
where other rights issues are also involved. However, issues within
the work programmes of the existing commissions should not form
the primary focus of the Human Rights Commission.
Again, structures should be put in place to
ensure co-ordination between the work of the various commissions.
Joint work could fruitfully be undertaken between the Human Rights
Commission and the other commissions.
Question 7: If a Human Rights Commission were
to be established, how should its independence of Government be
preserved while ensuring an appropriate type and level of accountability?
Independence will be vital to the efficacy and
credibility of a Human Rights Commission. The Paris Principles
stress the importance of independent legal status and the practical
ability of Human Rights Commissions to work free from government
obstruction. The Commission must of course nevertheless maintain
strong links with government, in order to work most effectively
with the public sector, and must be fully accountable, both financially
and in terms of its substantive work.
(a) How should its Chair, members and key
staff be appointed?
Appointments of the Chair and members of the
Commission should be by the Lord Chancellor on the advice of an
independent appointments committee. There should be public advertisement
of the positions, transparent selection procedures, and respect
for equal opportunities.
Appointments to a Human Rights Commission should
be on the basis of expertise and experience in fields relevant
to the Commission's work, including human rights, equality, and
social justice issues. Within this, in accordance with the Paris
Principles, appointments to the Commission should to the greatest
extent possible be reflective of society generally and of those
involved in human rights promotion, practice and theory, including
experts in human rights law and associated disciplines, both academics
and practitioners, and representatives of NGOs and minority communities.
In the interests of preserving independence,
JUSTICE considers that staff should, as a general rule, be appointed
directly by the Commission, rather than seconded from the civil
service. However, there may be exceptional cases where secondments
would be helpful in providing the Commission with particular expertise.
(b) How should its funding be provided?
The bulk of the Commission's funding should
be provided by a grant-in-aid from central government. However,
it is essential, in order to preserve its independence from government,
that the Commission should not be constrained from accepting funding
from elsewhere, so long as this does not compromise its independence,
or unduly influence or distort its work. The Commission should
also be free to raise some income from fees (for example for training
or speaking engagements) and sale of publications, although any
charges should not be imposed in a way that impedes access by
the general public to assistance from the Commission. The income
that could realistically be generated from such activities would,
however, be small, and this should be reflected in the grant in
(c) To whom should it be accountable?
JUSTICE considers that the Human Rights Commission
should report to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights,
and be examined by it on its annual report. Making the Commission
accountable to Parliament, to a Committee expert in its field,
would assist in protecting its independence, and would also assist
in developing a close working relationship between the two bodies.
(d) How should this be applied in the context
The devolved commission in Scotland should be
accountable to the Scottish Assembly. Arrangements for appointments
and funding by the Scottish executive should reflect those for
the UK (or the English and Welsh) Human Rights Commission.
Question 8: What level of staffing would be required
by the body or bodies you propose, and what might the annual cost
It would be inappropriate at this stage to calculate
the detailed budget or precise funding needs of a Human Rights
Commission. Resource allocation will need to be backed up with
careful research and consideration of the experience of commissions
abroad. Detailed costings for a Human Rights Commission have been
undertaken by the IPPR,
and these will be useful, but since the publication of this report
considerably more has been learnt about the range of functions
and the level of work that would be involved for a Human Rights
Commission with responsibility for the implementation of the Human
Rights Act. The experience of the Home Office Task Force and of
the NGOs that participated in it illustrates the high level of
resources demanded by the provision of information, training and
advice on the Act and Convention.
It will be important for the efficacy of its
work for the Human Rights Commission to have an adequate permanent
full-time core staff, with in-house human rights expertise. The
Commission should also have the option of commissioning outside
research, and bringing in outside specialists for training or
inquiries, and for funding to be specifically provided for this.
The Commission should have the capacity to form working groups
and expert panels composed of both members of the Commission and
outside experts to advise on particular issues. This would allow
for some flexibility in the use of resources. It would also assist
the Human Rights Commission in maintaining strong links with civil
society and with legal and other professional communities.
JUSTICE also considers that the Commission should
have at least a core of full-time Commissioners. A number of Commissioners
with a full-time commitment to the Commission would provide a
necessary resource, providing in-house expertise and ensuring
the efficient discharge of the Commission's work programme. At
the same time, the capacity to make some part-time appointments
could be a useful way to ensure that as wide a range of people
as possible could be appointed to the Commission. Commissioners
should be appointed for a fixed renewable period.
The experience of the Northern Ireland Human
Rights Commission, provided with a grant in aid insufficient for
its work, should be taken into account. As the NIHRC has recently
recommended in regard to its own work, there should be specific
legislative provision, guaranteeing a level of funding sufficient
to permit the Commission to fully perform its functions.
Question 9: If a Human Rights Commission were
established, what powers should it have?
The Commission should be granted sufficient
powers to ensure that it can carry out its functions effectively.
In relation to its power to conduct general inquiries it should
to hear and compel witnesses.
It should be noted that the Northern Ireland
Human Rights Commission has recently reported that the absence
of powers to compel the production of oral or written evidence,
in its founding legislation, has seriously hampered its investigative
JUSTICE believes that the funding legislation
(amending section 7 of the Human Rights Act) should also give
the Commission the capacity to bring actions in the public interest,
in its own name where human rights concerns are at stake. As a
minimum, the Commission should also be empowered to represent
individuals in human rights test cases.
The legislation should also provide clearly
that the Commission has the power to make third party interventions,
in light of the experience of the Northern Ireland Commission,
whose capacity to make such interventions has been denied by the
courts. There should also be a power to act as an amicus curiae.
As has been stated above, JUSTICE does not consider
that the Commission should have the power to conduct investigations
into individual cases.
23 Below we recommend that the Commission should report
directly to the Joint Committee. Back
Paragraph 10 under the heading "Human Rights" in Strand
Three of the Agreement. Back
A Human Rights Commission: the Options for Britain and Northern
Ireland (1998, Spencer/Bynoe). Back