Joint Committee On Human Rights Sixth Report


  The introduction of the HRA coincided with a period of significant change in local government driven by the Local Government Act 2000. The HRA was recognised as a major issue for local government but it was not a first priority and not something that it was fully prepared for on day one. However, this has since proved to be the high water mark. In local government, human rights are now drifting on an ebbing tide.

6.1 Preparing local authorities for the introduction of the Human Rights Act

  In section three, we examined the degree to which the mainstreaming of human rights would have helped to prepare local government for the introduction and continued application of the Human Rights Act. Local government, in England and Wales alone, consists of over 400 local authorities. It is well beyond the ability of a single government department to work directly with each of these authorities. Other carriers would have to play their part in bringing the "human rights message" to local authorities.

6.2 Local Government Association

  The LGA is the main representative body for local government in England and Wales. It is a subscription organisation (not a public body) with 100 per cent membership of local authorities. The LGA tends to be the first point of contact in the "local government family" which involves it working closely with three statutory bodies—the Employers' Organisation, Regulatory Services and the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government. The main focuses of the LGA are on policy development and lobbying, supporting local authorities and developing good practice.

  The LGA was quick to grasp the need for local government to prepare for the introduction of the HRA. It participated in the Home Office Human Rights Task Force and contributed to the "Core Guidance for Public Authorities" produced by the Home Office and Task Force. It published two guides on the HRA which were widely read within local government. The first provided a pocket-sized introduction to the Act, the second a more detailed examination of the implications of Article 6 of the Convention for local authority decision making. 7 The LGA organised a number of seminars and conferences on the HRA. It was instrumental in setting up the local government lawyers' group (see section 6.3 below) to examine Convention issues with particular implications for local government. It monitored and published research on the steps being taken by local authorities to implement the HRA (see section 6.7 below). It began a process of considering how a human rights culture could be incorporated into the best value frameworks being established in local authorities.

  If this report had been written at the end of 2000, there would have been real cause for encouragement at the steps being taken by the LGA to assist local authorities in implementing the HRA. The position now is much less cheering. The LGA is well attuned to the priorities of government. The current lack of political drive behind the human rights agenda and the absence of courtroom action have removed human rights from the LGA's own agenda. At this time, it has no human rights programme of work. The human rights pages on its website have remained unaltered for over a year. No one within the LGA is tasked with monitoring human rights developments or case law. Its lack of activity is also an accurate reflection of the low demand now for human rights information from within local government.

  By comparison, the handling of equality issues remains high among the priorities of the LGA. It is an active participant in the debates over the need for a single equality body and single equalities act. It is advising local authorities on the development of race equality schemes. There is a dedicated DIALOG (diversity in action in local government) team in the Employers' Organisation and a dedicated equalities team within the LGA. The CRE participates in relevant "local government family" working groups and networks. None of this exists for human rights.

6.3 Local Government Human Rights Joint Liaison Group

  It is a long established practice of local government lawyers to establish specific groups to consider the implications of new initiatives for local government. The Local Government Human Rights Joint Liaison Group was set up in early 2000 following discussions between the Law Society Local Government Group, the LGA and the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors (ACSeS). The group had around a dozen members mostly identified by the LGA. Since its second meeting the group has been chaired by a lawyer from a southern county council.

  The need for the group arose from concerns among local government lawyers that there was no forum in which to consider and debate human rights issues as they would impact on local government. The guidance being put out by central government was thought to be too general for this purpose and DETR gave no indication that it would take the lead or provide guidance on the implications for local government.

  The group had an active lifespan of about 18 months and has not met now for over a year (although this may change as its remit has been extended since June 2002 to cover freedom of information matters). The group started work with an expectation that the Human Rights Act would have significant implications for local government. It focused on three areas:

    —  auditing of policies and procedures for compliance with the HRA and ECHR;

    —  establishing the training needs of lawyers and service staff; and

    —  making human rights part of the corporate governance process in local authorities.

  During the preparation period for the HRA, the group considered what guidance was required and how the new human rights regime should be linked into the systems (best value etc) being introduced under the Local Government Act 2000. With the HRA in place, members shared experiences and practices in conducting audits and setting up systems to comply with the HRA and ECHR. Some common problem areas, for example, planning and licensing were also discussed.

  The group has maintained communication with a counterpart group in Scotland but has had no contact with either of the lawyers' groups in central government.

  The group produced no guidance of its own but it was involved in the preparation of the two LGA guides. Its deliberations were also fed to a wider audience through the LGA while issues raised with the association were brought to the group for consideration.

  The group's sense of purpose diminished rapidly as it became clear that there would not be a large number of significant challenges impacting on the work of local government. Since October 2000, there have been no cases that have prompted the group to meet to consider a course of action (the closest the group came to doing this was with the Alconbury judgement).

6.4 Association of Local Authority Risk Managers (ALARM)

  In 2000, the Association of Local Authority Risk Managers (ALARM) formed a working group comprising representatives from local authorities, commercial law firms and public sector insurers to consider the implications of the HRA for local government. The work was prompted by concern that problems could arise in insuring public authorities for actions that were found to be incompatible with the HRA. The Working Group produced a comprehensive guide to the HRA describing the potential impact of the HRA for public authorities, providing guidance on how to incorporate human rights considerations into the decision making processes of public authorities and offering a model risk management plan/hazard index. 8 The guide was distributed to local authorities through the risk managers' network.

  It has been difficult to judge the impact of this guide as it was in use in only one of the local authorities examined for this report. What is clear is that there has been no follow up by ALARM and the impact of the guide (two years down the road) is likely to be correspondingly small. A number of the local authorities examined for this report expressed the need for just the sort of practical guidance contained in the ALARM guide without being aware of its availability.

6.5 Guidance provided by other bodies

  A number of other organisations have been active in providing guidance for public authorities on the implications of the HRA. Apart from the efforts of the Home Office/LCD and the Human Rights Task Force, human rights were identified as a business opportunity by law firms, representative bodies and even human rights NGOs. All produced guidance, held seminars and offered training on human rights matters for local authorities. Organisations such as CAPITA and CIPFA held major conferences aimed at those working in public authorities. Similar events, if normally on a smaller scale, were held by human rights NGOs which also did some training for individual public authorities. The Local Government Information Unit held seminars, produced guidance and offered a helpline service (which no longer appears to be in operation). Commercial law firms produced guidance and often provided free awareness raising training for individual public authorities as the hook to win further business (specialist training or auditing of policies and procedures). Some of these firms continue to provide subscription or free updates on human rights matters (although there are now few subscribers among public authorities).

  Demand for training and information has fallen markedly over the two years that the HRA has been in operation. CAPITA and CIPFA no longer organise conferences on human rights matters for public authorities (data protection and freedom of information are the new hot topics). Other players have also left the field although there is a small residue of training activity conducted by commercial law firms with small peaks of activity after local government elections (eg where there are changes in council membership or political control).

  Among the local authorities examined as part of this report, there was some sense of a "backlash" against obtaining further outside assistance on human rights matters. It was felt that the potential impact of the HRA had been overstated almost to the point of "scaremongering" during the build up to October 2000. The impact of the HRA on local government, in the first two years, had proved to be minimal and, in harsh budgetary terms, had not justified the time, money and attention that had been paid to the issue.

6.6 District Audit

  District Audit is the auditing arm of the Audit Commission with a client base in health and local government. In the Autumn of 2000, it piloted work to ascertain what steps were being taken by organisations working in these areas to reduce the risk of legal challenges arising from the HRA. The results were variable:

    "Feedback from pilots for local government showed considerable variation in the way local authorities prepared for the Act. A number had not carried out a review of their policies and procedures for compliance with the Act. In general the health pilots were less well prepared with piecemeal arrangements being made." 9

  This convinced District Audit that it should develop comprehensive audit arrangements and a diagnostic tool with the objective of assessing whether the bodies it audits have:

    —  "effective management arrangements in place for complying with the Act

    —  identified their key risk areas, which could be subject to challenge under the Act and, as such, have introduced changes to minimise legal, financial and reputational risks

    —  taken steps to build a rights based culture

    —  established management arrangements to ensure its contractors/partners are compliant with the Act

    —  on-going monitoring and review arrangements." 10

  The diagnostic tool was tested on five willing public authorities in 2001.

  During the course of 2001, District Audit surveyed how some 88 public bodies were implementing the Human Rights Act. The task was undertaken by its auditors as part of the normal audit inspection process (using a good practice checklist developed as a precursor to the diagnostic tool). The disturbing results were published in May 2002 (see section 6.7 below). All public authorities received a copy of the bulletin (it was also included in a joint mail shot with the revised LCD study guide). Each of the 88 bodies covered, received an individual report and action plan on their human rights performance. The reports focused on the public authority's performance in allocating responsibilities and establishing systems to ensure compliance with the HRA and ECHR. These reports on individual public authorities are not published.

  The Human Rights Diagnostic tool was brought into full use for the audit cycle commencing in Spring 2002. Human rights are now included in the core risks that auditors should consider during the annual audit inspection process. 11 If an auditor's initial assessment identifies concerns in the human rights area, the diagnostic tool may be employed. It is also open to organisations to invite District Audit to use the diagnostic tool to assess the effectiveness of their arrangements for complying with the Human Rights Act. No such request has been received to date though some interest is now being shown in having action planning workshops.

  If used, the diagnostic programme will focus on:

  Awareness—How far has the organisation gone to raise awareness of human rights issues at all levels?

  Corporate policies and procedures—What arrangements have been made to ensure employment, disciplinary, complaints, data protection, and best value policies are not vulnerable to challenge?

  External providers—What arrangements have been made to ensure that partners and suppliers are clued up on the legislation?

  Monitoring and review—Do arrangements ensure continued compliance with the Act?

  The process starts with a review of an organisation's corporate management arrangements and the identification of strengths and weaknesses on the basis of which subsequent work is tailored. 12

  Priorities for the annual audit cycle are set at the beginning of each year. Inspections take place during February to October with the results being released in annual audit letters issued from October to December. Human rights are likely to remain a core element of the inspection process. The purpose is to eliminate unnecessary costs arising through legal challenges under the Human Rights Act. As part of its governance function, District Audit will continue to identify good practice and offer guidance on policies and procedures to assist public bodies to implement the Human Rights Act. Its remit does not extend to subject matter—human rights issues and cases.

  Human rights are incorporated into recent regional workshops on action planning for areas of risk which have been conducted by District Audit for Primary Care Trusts and Mental Health Trusts. It has also reminded the strategic health authorities of the need to brief new PCTs on their responsibilities under the human rights legislation (but has no evidence that this is taking place).

  District Audit plans to publish another bulletin in 2003—when it hopes to draw in other agencies such as the LGA and LCD (a possibility it has discussed with the latter). This bulletin will examine further how public bodies are addressing the HRA and highlight examples of best practice. It will be based on the outcomes of a more thorough examination and follow up of the action plans agreed with some 40-50 public authorities with some overlap with the original sample of 88 public authorities. The analysis is expected to look at individual areas of service delivery. It may also encompass diversity issues.

  District Audit was brought back under the Audit Commission in January 2003. In future, it may cease to be responsible for the auditing of health organisations when this task is one that may be taken up by an expanded Commission on Health Improvement and Assessment (around 2004-05).

  District Audit's remit is restricted to England and Wales. The Accounts Commission in Scotland has not developed a similar focus on human rights.

6.7 Three surveys

  Between March and May 2000, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) conducted a telephone survey of the preparations being made by public authorities for the coming into force of the HRA. Of the 60 public authorities who responded, the IPPR categorised 15 as being in the process of making adequate preparations; 21 as having recognised the need to take steps but not yet being at the stage of doing so; and 24 as having no information on the HRA or understanding that it would apply to their work.

  The IPPR observed that:

    "Our findings suggest that the filtering of information down the system in local authorities is not working quickly enough and that central government needs to provide sector specific guidance as soon as possible".13

  Between May and September 2000, the LGA surveyed the state of preparations in local authorities for the coming into force of the HRA. Based on a response rate of just over half the local authorities in England and Wales, the LGA found that:

    —  10 per cent of local authorities had a general policy on human rights, 30 per cent were formulating one and 28 per cent planned to develop such a policy;

    —  44 per cent of local authorities had developed a strategy or plan to implement the HRA while a further 28 per cent were in the process of developing such a plan;

    —  56 per cent of local authorities were auditing policies and procedures for compliance with the HRA and 39 per cent had plans to do so;

    —  28 per cent had changed policies or procedures as a result of an audit exercise;

    —  70 per cent had developed or intended to develop a system for ensuring that human rights implications were considered in decision making;

    —  63 per cent of local authorities had experienced difficulties in preparing for the HRA (mainly lack of manpower and uncertainty over the effect of the Act);

    —  98 per cent of local authorities were providing specialist training for some officers falling to 6 per cent offering such training for all officers;

    —  93 per cent were raising awareness about the Act amongst officers;

    —  92 per cent intended to offer training to council members;

    —  87 per cent saw a need for more advice on good practice and 86 per cent for information on legal developments. 14

  In 2001, District Audit surveyed how some 88 local government and health organisations were implementing the Human Rights Act. The findings published in May 2002 revealed that:

    —  69 per cent of the local authorities had gone to considerable lengths to raise awareness of the implications of the HRA for their work;

    —  41 per cent had taken no action to assess policies and practices for compliance with the Act;

    —  half of the local authorities had no clear corporate approach to responding to the HRA;

    —  62 per cent had put in place a mechanism for keeping abreast of developments concerning human rights;

    —  76 per cent of local authorities and health bodies had made no arrangements for ensuring that hybrid bodies and contractors had taken steps to comply with the HRA. 15

  The statistical surveys conducted by the LGA and District Audit offer strong evidence to support the view that most local authorities identified and addressed the need to prepare for the coming into force of the Human Rights Act. Five examples are given below of what this might actually mean in individual local authorities.

6.8 A Northern Metropolitan Borough Council

  This is a large metropolitan borough council (no single party control) with a cabinet and sizeable corporate structure. The main priority of the council is the development and implementation of its community cohesion programme.

  The council did not act early for the introduction of the HRA as its lawyers were confident that the impact on its work was likely to be small because their decision-making processes complied with the Convention. A report was put to the council's executive committee in October 2000 when members determined that it would be a "human rights" council. Human rights considerations are included in the principles of decision making annexed to the council's constitution (working off a template also used in other local authorities). A "human rights" implications box is included in the template for council papers seeking decisions. No audit of policies and procedures was conducted prior to the HRA coming into force but the council did take the unusual step of having its scrutiny committee review the impact of the HRA on the work of the council after one year.

  Human rights come under the corporate legal services team of the council. However, steps have been taken to mainstream the subject to line management throughout the council and lawyers serving particular service areas are expected to handle human rights matters in these areas. The council conducted its biggest training programme in 10 years to provide a general introduction to the HRA for some 300 line managers. Specialist seminars were held for some service areas and a separate seminar for council members. Council lawyers experienced no particular problems in obtaining materials on the HRA. In their preparations they used guidance provided by the Home Office/LCD and the LGA. Some of the human rights training has been provided by a commercial law firm. Information on human rights cases is obtained through subscription to "lawtel".

  Few human rights challenges have been made against the work of the council. Human rights arguments have arisen in the areas of child care, licensing, traveller policies and housing but not in a manner to cause concern or alarm within the council. Complaints have been normally settled before getting to court.

  The council has not adopted any specific rights based approaches in its work but there is some sense of human rights permeating its community cohesion programme.

  Human rights are now a low priority issue for the council. It does not consider that it has any "unmet" needs with regard to human rights and the HRA. There is some support for a human rights commission to develop the human rights agenda provided that the main focus remains on the legal implications.

6.9 A Southern County Council

  This is a large county council (under single party control) with a cabinet and a sizeable corporate structure.

  The cabinet agreed a human rights policy in 2000. Human rights considerations are covered in some detail in the council's constitution. A "human rights" implications box is included in the template for council papers seeking decisions. Council policies and practices were audited for compliance with the Convention. No major concerns were identified but the council was prompted to include a human rights indemnity clause in its contracts (particularly for residential and day care) to protect it from claims.

  Human rights come under the corporate legal services team. Human rights champions were also identified in each service area but, at the end of 2002, only those in planning, social services and trading standards were still active. Human rights issues arising in other service areas tend to gravitate back to the corporate legal services team.

  Separate human rights training programmes have been held for lawyers and service departments (line managers and front line staff). Human rights guidance was put on the council's intranet. Well-attended seminars were held for council members at the end of 2000 and, again, after the 2001 elections. A written guide on the HRA for council members was produced.

  Council members remain "human rights" conscious and ask, on occasion, for additional information on the human rights implications of matters presented for decision. However, human rights issues arise infrequently in connection with the work of the council—waste plans, access to internet services in council libraries and traveller policies marking the only significant occasions. The latter also being the only area where council members have had to be advised that the policies being devised by the council risked being considered to be incompatible with the Convention.

  The council has not adopted any form of rights based approach to its work. It does not promote a "human rights culture". It does not consider that it has any "unmet" needs (for guidance, advice or support) with regard to human rights and the HRA. It had received a positive report from District Audit for its efforts to implement the HRA.

  There was a belief that a human rights commission would have been beneficial at the time that the HRA was introduced but there was less support for one now. It was commented that such a commission could only make an impact with powers to "direct" local authorities to act.

6.10 A Southern District Council

  This is a medium sized district council (under single party control) with a cabinet, no corporate structure but some policy officers.

  The council has a constitution with the "standard" human rights clause on proportionality annexed as part of the principles of decision making. A "human rights" implications box is included in the template for council papers seeking decisions. This in reinforced by a "human rights" checklist for decision- making used primarily for planning issues. Particular emphasis is placed on ensuring the "proportionality" of planning enforcement decisions. The council has published guidance on how it applies the HRA in planning decisions.

  The council attempted an audit of policies and procedures with variable levels of participation and results in different service areas.

  Human rights are vested with the legal department. It has ensured that human rights are built into council contracts.

  In 2000, the council ran awareness raising seminars for all line managers supplemented by targeted sessions for housing, planning and environmental services. Human rights briefings were held for Council members and area committees. There has been no reinforcement of this training.

  The council used human rights guidance provided by the Home Office/LCD, the LGA and commercial law firms. It has recently distributed the revised LCD human rights study guide to all departments. The legal department uses "lawtel" for information on human rights cases. Human rights issues have had little impact, to date, on the work of the council. The council successfully defended a challenge on the use of introductory tenancies (not Bracknell Forest). Human rights had also arisen in a planning case settled out of court.

  The council has not adopted any form culture of respect for human rights in its work. It does not promote a "human right culture".

  There was a belief that a human rights commission would have been beneficial at the time the HRA was introduced but that it would be of less use now.

6.11 A Midlands District Council

  This is a small district council (under single party control) with a cabinet but no corporate structure or dedicated policy officers. Priorities for the council were maintaining a low council tax and dealing with planning "overspill" from nearby conurbations.

  The council has a "standard" constitution and human rights clause. A report had been made to cabinet when the HRA came into effect. The council had completed an audit of its policies and functions for compliance with the Convention. No particular issues had been identified. It uses a decision-making template but this does not include a section for "human rights" implications. Questions of proportionality are, however, always addressed in planning decisions.

  Free awareness raising seminars had been held for council staff and members by a commercial law firm. The council used guidance provided by the Home Office/LCD and the LGA. It does not monitor current human rights cases and developments.

  The council had not been faced with any challenges under the HRA. However, such considerations percolated in the background to planning decisions and enforcement actions especially when travellers opted to build on land they owned but without planning permission.

  The council has not adopted any form of rights based approach for its work. It does not promote a "human rights culture".

  There was no support for a human rights commission. Local government was already over regulated and inspected. There was no need to address human rights as a matter of more than legal compliance.

6.12 A Welsh District Council

  This is a small district council (under single party control) with no cabinet, corporate structure or dedicated policy officers.

  The council does not have a formal constitution and has not established a human rights policy. It had not undertaken an audit of policies and practices for compliance with the Convention but rather adopts an incremental approach addressing human rights implications as policies come up for review. The council does not use a decision-making template for council papers as it feels that this would serve little purpose other than being a box ticking exercise.

  Human rights issues are vested with a single lawyer. At the outset, he had not expected the HRA to have an impact on the work of the council and no human rights issues have arisen since the Act came into force.

  Some informal training has been held for council staff. No training for council members has been provided and they show no interest in human rights in relation to council business. Human rights and the HRA hold no significance for this council. A human rights commission is held to have no purpose in relation to the council.

6.13 Current human rights practice in local authorities

  The size of a local authority has some bearing on the extent of its preparations for the HRA. Larger local authorities with corporate levels or structures are much more likely to have adopted systematic approaches to the implementation of the HRA. In some cases, detailed reports were prepared prior to the Act coming into force for cabinet or executive committees on the potential implications of the HRA. In these larger authorities, human rights policies may be established, human rights given a place in the council's constitution and systems put in place for human rights considerations to be reflected in the decision-making processes of the council. Checklists of varying degrees of sophistication are used by some of these authorities to ensure that human rights considerations are reflected in decision-making. In smaller local authorities, it is less likely that systematic approaches will have been adopted for the implementation of the HRA. Such authorities are not as "policy" orientated as their larger cousins. They do not have the "luxury" of the corporate structures or human resources for such work. This said, some of the best practice on human rights (the use of decision-making checklists etc) was found in smaller councils where an individual official had the interest and influence to establish human rights systems. Individual initiative is less likely to be a factor in larger local authorities.

  The involvement of council members in the preparation and implementation process for the HRA is patchy. Council members in one northern county council established a human rights working group which held sessions with external groups such as the police and voluntary agencies to examine the implications of the HRA for their work. But this is unusual. The interest and involvement of council members in human rights matters in the other local authorities examined as part of this report varied widely. The sample was too small to discern any particular pattern or reason for this save for a correlation between awareness training being held for members and members taking an interest in human rights. Whether the interest prompted the training or the training prompted the interest is unclear.

  Overall, the evidence for human rights remaining an active part of the work of local authorities is thin. In most local authorities, human rights now only play a part in the work of the legal teams. In a handful, they also have a home in risk management or the equalities team. It is very rare to now find human rights mainstreamed across all the service areas of a local authority. Planning is the area most likely to exercise a human rights dimension (the use of proportionality in planning and enforcement decisions). In a handful of local authorities, guidance continues to be produced on the implications of the HRA for decision-making in specific areas of activity. Simple online searches of council decisions also reveal arguments addressing Article 8 and Article 1 Protocol 1 issues in planning decisions and compulsory purchase orders, and, a personal favourite, the ECHR concept of proportionality being applied to the siting of a roundabout.

  However, the evidence also strongly argues that human rights systems where established in local government are now falling into disuse. This stems from the lack of human rights cases having a direct impact on the work of local authorities and the absence of any real reinforcement of the "human rights message" from any of the sources they would look to for guidance on the hot topics of the day.

  Three comments were made by interviewees in nearly all the local authorities examined as part of this report:

    —  the local authority took the necessary steps to prepare for the Act;

    —  it had since had few human rights challenges to deal with; and

    —  human rights are now a low priority area for the council.

  As one legal officer working in a city council in the south of England summed up "the human rights files are dusty and about to be archived". It must be concluded that the Human Rights Act presently has little impact on the day to day work of local authorities.

6.14 A Human Rights Commission and local government

  Local authorities would have been more likely to welcome the presence of a human rights commission at a time when it could have helped in the preparation process. As of now, they see less need for such a body and do not consider that they have "unmet" needs in fulfilling their obligations under the HRA. Local authorities and their representative bodies are well attuned to the political priorities of government. This leads them to view human rights as only a compliance issue. And compliance with the HRA is not a priority issue because it is not causing them problems in their work (they have had few cases or issues to wrestle with since the Act came into force).

  There is little sense of a human rights culture being promoted in the services provided by local authorities. An exception was a northern council where such a culture was a part of education policies. The nearest that most local authorities are likely to come in recognising the need to promote the human rights interests of any part of the community is in relation to traveller policies. Even then, the "culture" is primarily one of justifying the proportionate nature of planning and enforcement decisions in interfering with the property and family rights of travellers.

  A key task to be addressed by a human rights commission, therefore, would be to take on the task of convincing busy local authorities that human rights are important and deserve to be embraced, as more than a compliance issue, in every area of their activities. To do this, it would have to work through the "umbrella" organisations—the representative and regulatory bodies already working with local government—which would involve first rekindling the enthusiasm and interest of these organisations for human rights matters.

  A human rights commission would not need to fill any particular information gaps on human rights matters for local authorities. This information is already available from a wide variety of sources. However, it could act as a repository for "good practice" or convince other bodies to establish such a resource. Local authorities appear to rarely share best practice on human rights matters.

  A human rights commission could have a part to play in translating human rights obligations into the administrative frameworks governing local government. Human rights do not play a part in comprehensive performance assessment—the main governance tool and focus of local government. Race equality does form part of this process. Race equality indicators from best value (and earlier initiatives) have been picked up for employment and service delivery purposes in the new comprehensive performance assessment framework. There are no performance indicators for human rights. When the HRA was introduced, there was the prospect that a culture of respect for human rights would become part of best value but this had not been done in any of the local authorities examined for this report. Interviewees in the LGA attributed this to the "wait and see" approach adopted by most local authorities. Since human rights did not "catch fire" as an issue or in the courtroom they did not earn a place in best value. Including human rights performance indicators in comprehensive performance assessment would have a real impact in re-establishing human rights as a priority of local government. This could be done without a human rights commission but there is an "added value" to be gained if this step were to be reinforced by a commission supervising a public sector "duty to promote" human rights as is now done by the CRE for racial equality (see further section 11.2 below).

  A human rights commission would not have to fill a regulatory role in relation to local government. Indeed, the work undertaken by District Audit in relation to human rights has the potential to have a major impact on the manner in which public authorities respond to the HRA and ECHR. It makes human rights a part of the regulatory framework and something to be taken seriously by all public authorities. The focus is inevitably on fulfilling the compliance aspects of the new legislation and to ward off the prospect of the unnecessary costs of fighting or losing challenges in the courts. District Audit does not profess to have expertise in human rights and while it can advise on management systems etc, it cannot offer advice on human rights issues per se. This is the one obvious limitation of its work and the point at which a partner organisation such as a human rights commission might make a useful contribution. There are, however, strict limits on the extent to which District Audit can share information relating to individual public authorities. This is something that would have to be addressed through a protocol or memorandum of understanding between District Audit and any future human rights commission.

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