Joint Committee On Human Rights Written Evidence


APPENDICES TO THE MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

1. Memorandum from the Northern Ireland Office (NIO)

THE COMMISSION'S EFFECTIVENESS

  The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission carries out its functions independently of Government so it would not be appropriate to comment on the Commission's effectiveness. There are a number of means by which the public and Parliament may make their own assessment: the minutes of Commission meetings are placed on the website and the Commission publishes an annual report, which is placed in the Library of each House.

THE POWERS OF THE COMMISSION

  The Commission's powers and functions were set out in the Belfast Agreement and enacted in sections 69-71 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. They are:

    —  to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of laws and practices relating to human rights;

    —  to advise the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Administration of legislative or other measures which should be taken to protect human rights;

    —  to provide information and promote awareness of human rights;

    —  to consider draft legislation referred to them by the Assembly; and

    —  where appropriate, to bring court proceedings or provide assistance to individuals who do so.

  The Commission was required by the Northern Ireland Act to report to the Secretary of State on ways in which it thinks it effectiveness could be improved. Its recommendations were received in March 2001, and the Government published its response in May 2002. The deadline for responses to the consultation document was 16 August but some arrived late. We are currently assessing the responses and hope to be in a position to make an announcement shortly.

THE COMMISSION'S RESOURCES

  The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has an annual grant of £750,000, however the Government has made clear that they will consider sympathetically, alongside other priorities, all bids for increased funding provided they are supported by a properly costed business case. This financial year the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has received a total funding in excess of £1.2 million.

  We plan to make an announcement shortly on the Commission's funding for the next three years.

BILL OF RIGHTS

The Belfast Agreement

  Under the terms of the Belfast Agreement the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was "invited to consult and advise on the scope for defining, in Westminster legislation, rights supplementary to those in the European Convention on Human Rights, to reflect the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, drawing as appropriate on international instruments and experience". Any additional rights are to "reflect the principle of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem".

The Commission's Consultation Document "Making a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland"

  The Commission launched its Bill of Rights process on 1 March 2000, during the succeeding 12 months they consulted widely across the community, this cumulated in the publication in September 2001, of the consultation document "Making a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland". Since then the Commission has been consulting widely on the contents of the document. The Commission hopes to submit further proposals to the Secretary of State in early 2003.

The Government's Position on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland

  The Government has periodically been asked to set out its position on the various issues contained in the consultation document. Clearly we do not want to prejudge the Commission's conclusions so cannot comment on the detail of the process. We will respond when we have received the Commission's final advice.

  The Government has made a number of general points. We want as broad as possible a cross-section of the community to participate in the consultation to ensure that all have a sense of ownership of the final Bill. In a letter to the Commission's Chief Commissioner, Brice Dickson in November 2001, Des Browne set out the Government's initial comments on issues of principle raised by the consultation paper, such as reconciliation and reapproachement; policy recommendations vs rights; issues of enforcement; issues of entrenchment and amendment; and the definition of the "particular circumstances of Northern Ireland".

November 2002


 
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