Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

57.  Memorandum from the Commission for Local Administration in England

  1.  Does compliance with human rights form one of the criteria by reference to which you assess the performance of the public authorities with which you deal?

  The Local Government Ombudsmen investigate complaints of injustice caused through maladministration by local authorities and certain other bodies.

  When considering a new complaint we assess whether the complainant may have a right to go to court or to a tribunal to pursue a claimed breach of his or her human rights. If he or she does have such a right, the Ombudsman would normally reject the complaint if he or she considers it would be reasonable to expect the complainant to use the legal remedy. This would particularly apply where a complainant was principally seeking a declaration that his or her human rights have been breached.

  If the Ombudsman exercises his or her statutory discretion to investigate, notwithstanding the existence of such a remedy, the Ombudsman's investigator will consider the need to make specific enquiries relating to the alleged breach of human rights. Frequently, these enquiries would be the same whether or not a breach of human rights is potentially involved. But on occasion specific enquiries concerning the complainant's human rights may be made. On conclusion of the investigation, the Ombudsman will not make any determination of the complainant's human rights since this is a matter for the court. This does not prevent the Ombudsman, however, from having regard to his or her understanding of any human rights issues in making recommendations for remedial action, where he or she finds injustice to the complainant caused by maladministration.

  2.  Does the establishment of a culture of human rights, including inculcating recognition among staff of the administrative and public service benefits of establishing a human rights culture, form one of the criteria by reference to which you assess the performance of the public authorities with which you deal?

  This is not an explicit criterion which we apply to our investigations. However, if our investigation demonstrated the absence of such a culture and that this had contributed to the injustice endured by the complainant, it is possible that an Ombudsman would draw attention to this in his or her decision and make appropriate recommendations. I am not aware that this has yet happened.

  3.  If the answer to Question 1 or Question 2 is "Yes", please explain the way in which your inspection of a public authority establishes and takes account of relevant matters, and the way in which your assessment is reflected in your report. (Examples of reports which give attention to these matters would be very helpful.)

  Please see responses to questions 1 and 2. The Local Government Ombudsmen do not carry out inspections which culminate in reports assessing a council's overall performance in a given area. They investigate complaints from individual members of the public. Some investigations result in published reports but this represents a very small percentage of the decisions reached on complaints received. The vast majority of decisions are by letter and these decisions remain private and subject to a statutory prohibition on disclosure.

  Our general experience to date is that the human rights dimension has not added greatly to the Ombudsmen's understanding of what constitutes "maladministration". Where, however, complainants have raised human rights issues with a council we will look to see that these have been considered properly including, if appropriate, seeking legal advice on the issues. In considering the legal background to our investigations, we also have regard to the decisions of the domestic courts as well as of Strasbourg if relevant.

  We do not consider that any of our published reports would be particularly helpful to the work of the Committee and we are unable, for the reasons already explained, to provide copies of our decisions by letter, a small proportion of which will have dealt with specific human rights issues.

  4.  Do you maintain any records of the performance of the public authorities with which you deal in (a) complying with human rights requirements, and/or (b) establishing a human rights culture within their organisations? If so, are there any general or particular lessons which you feel it would be worth bringing to the attention of the Committee?

  We do not keep such records at present. If non-compliance with human rights requirements by local authorities or other bodies within the jurisdiction of the Local Government Ombudsmen became a significant issue we would re-examine the case for tracking these cases.

  5.  Do you offer advice and assistance about (a) compliance with human rights, and/or (b) establishing a culture of human rights among staff, to the public authorities with which you deal?

  We do offer advice and assistance to the authorities with which we deal on request. The requests we handle are varied. They may be about the ethical code for elected members; they may be about whether specific actions by a council amounted in our view to "maladministration"; they may be about what would be an appropriate remedy to a complainant on the basis of maladministration which the councils accepts it is responsible for. There may be human rights issues implicitly involved (eg where the subject matter of the complaint to the council involved improper use of surveillance equipment) but the queries we receive rarely, if ever, involve explicit assessment of human rights compliance.

  6.  If the answer to either part of Question 5 is "Yes", do you offer that advice (a) proactively or only in response to a request from the authority or a perceived difficulty or shortcoming, and (b) continuously or only at the time of periodic inspections or reviews? Please provide examples of your practice if possible.

  Please see answer to question 5. We provide advice in response to requests on a continuous basis. As previously explained the Local Government Ombudsmen do not carry out periodic inspections or reviews of authorities' performance; they investigate individual complaints.

  7.  If you do not currently (a) use human rights as one of your assessment criteria, and/or (b) offer advice on human rights matters to the public authorities with which you deal, do you have any plans to do so in the future?

  The Local Government Ombudsmen and their staff keep under review any pattern or trend in the complaints received against public authorities within their jurisdiction. If in the future there is evidence of a pattern or increasing trend of non-compliance with human rights this could affect our investigations of complaints and the constant dialogue we have with local authorities. At present, we have not seen any such evidence.

29 April 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 2 September 2002