Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

26.  Memorandum from Scottish Human Rights Centre


  Further to your call for evidence on the need for a Human Rights Commission in the UK please find enclosed the Scottish Human Rights Centre's response to the Scottish Executive Consultation on a Human Rights Commission for Scotland. Apologies for the delay in responding but as you are aware there has been a detailed consultation on this issue running to the same timescale which has had to take priority for us.

  The Scottish Human Rights Centre believes that Scotland needs a separate Human Rights Commission and would not be adequately served by a UK Human Rights Commission. In light of the fact that such a commission already exists in Northern Ireland and may soon exist in Scotland we would suggest that a commission for England and Wales would be preferable to a UK commission. However it is important to note that human rights are not currently sufficiently protected by the existing equalities commissions and thus a separate body charged with specifically protecting all human rights is necessary.

  Should a Scottish Commission fail to be established we would welcome the creation of a UK Commission along the lines outlined in the enclosed document. Of fundamental importance to any such body is independence and impartiality. Any such body must be established with reference to the "Paris Principles" (The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 52/128 on National Institutions).

  My apologies for the lack of detailed response however I am sure that you understand that our first priority is a Human Rights Commission for Scotland. If you have any questions or require further information I would be happy to help.

17 July 2001


  1.  What might a Human Rights Commission add to the current methods of protecting human rights in the UK? In particular, are there any functions in connection with protecting human rights and developing a culture of human rights which do not fall within the remit of any existing agency in the UK, such as: fostering a human rights culture, education in human rights, advising and assisting people who claim to be victims of violations of their Convention rights, developing expertise in human rights, bringing legal proceedings on human rights issues in the public interest?

  A Human Rights Commission would ensure that all human rights are protected as not all rights are currently protected by the existing equalities commissions and other statutory bodies. For example if you are not an ethnic minority, disabled or discriminated against on basis of your gender then you have nowhere to turn to receive support or guidance on how to challenge that abuse. This is particularly pertinent in light of the rights provided by the Human Rights Act but which have not been adequately publicised or explained by central or local government.

  The creation and promotion of a human rights culture was an aim of the Human Rights Act but unless a body is charged with ensuring this happens then this will fail. An important part of creating such a culture is education, not only in schools but throughout society ensuring that everyone is aware of their rights and responsibilities and can play an active part in society.

  The current development of human rights in the UK is piecemeal as judges and lawyers deal with cases with only a small amount of training and little or no expertise. A Human Rights Commission would not only ensure that all practitioners were fully trained but would also promote best practice, ensuring the comprehensive and coherent development of human rights in the UK.

  (See pages 8-10 of attached document for full answer)

  2.  If a Human Rights Commission were established, how should its role and functions relate to those of this committee?

  A Human Rights Commission could present its annual report to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for scrutiny and for the report to be laid before parliament. A Commission would also be able to offer support and expertise to the committee.

  3.  In what order of priority would you arrange the functions of such a commission? If you think that a Commission should examine a range of issues, to which issue or issues do you think that the commission should give priority?

  The functions of a Human Rights Commission are equally important and should not be divided. Similarly the priority of issues which it examines should be left to the Chief Commissioner to determine on basis of current problems once the Commission is established.

  (See pages 11-16 of attached document for roles and functions)

  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 UK, or separate bodies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or both a UK body and bodies with territorial responsibilities?

  The Scottish Human Rights Centre believes that Scotland needs a Scottish Human Rights Commission, however this would not preclude the creation of a UK wide body if it were found to also be necessary. In view of the existence of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the potential creation of a Scottish Human Rights Commission, it would be best to establish an English and Welsh Commission rather than a UK Body.

  (see page 15 of attached document for further information)

  5.  If there were to be a Human Rights Commission with responsibilities for the whole UK, what relationship should there be between its work in respect of Northern Ireland and the work of the NI commission? (and Scotland, Wales and England if established)?

  A UK Human Rights Commission would need to establish working practices with each of the other Human Rights Commissions which were established (Northern Ireland as established; and Scotland, Wales and England if established).

  6.  If a human rights commission were established, how should its work relate to that of other bodies with special responsibility for particular rights, such as the Information Commissioner, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission, and the Equality Commission for NI? In particular:

  Should a commission perform functions now performed by existing commissions, or should it co-exist with them? If they were to co-exist, what roles should they perform in areas where their responsibilities might be expected to overlap?

  If a Human Rights Commission were to co-exist with the existing commissions, should issues relating to equal opportunities be excluded from the remit of the commission and given to the Equalities commissions.?

  A Human Rights Commission and the existing statutory bodies should create working practices for how to deal with areas of overlap. These kinds of practice already exist with regard to the existing bodies therefore there is no reason why they could not be extended to a Human Rights Commission.

  No area should be excluded from the remit of the Human Rights Commission but it should be able to refer cases to other bodies where they are the most appropriate body to deal with a specific issue.

  (see page 17 of attached document for further information)

  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? In particular:

  How should its Chair, members and key staff be appointed?

  How should funding be provided?

  To whom should it be accountable?

  How should the matters mentioned above take account of devolution?

  Appointment should be through a public appointments procedure which is open and accountable. Funding should be set by parliament but provided by Government, and should be set for a period of three-five years to allow for forward planning and security of tenure. This period should span the time for any General Election to ensure political impartiality.

  A Human Rights Commission should be accountable to parliament through the presentation of an annual report.

  See above comments and attached documents for information on devolution issues.

  8.  In light of your answers to the above questions, what is your estimate of the level of staffing which would be required by the body or bodies you propose and what the annual cost might be?

  The level of staffing would depend on what type of body was established and what other commissions were in existence at the time of establishment. It should be for the Chief Commissioner to decide what staff is necessary, however provision should be made for sufficient research and administrative staff as well as sufficient resources to carry out all of its functions and duties.

  9.  Some commission currently operating in fields related to human rights have a range of powers. For example, they might be empowered to conduct investigations, to require people to provide information, to issue notices requiring people to cease conduct which the commission considers to be unlawful, to conduct legal proceedings, to assist other parties to legal proceedings, to issue codes of practice, to conduct research, and to engage in a range of activities designed to heighten awareness of issues within their remits. If a human rights commission were to be established what powers should it have?

  See pages 11-16 of attached document for roles, functions and powers.

  10.  Are there other relevant issues or consideration which have not been covered in answers to the earlier questions?

  See attached document on a Scottish Human Rights Commission for further information.

17 July 2001

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