Joint Committee On Human Rights Sixth Report

Call for Evidence: Equalities and Human Rights

  The Joint Committee on Human Rights has been examining the case for a human rights commission. This inquiry has been conducted in the light of the decision not to establish a commission at the same time as the Human Rights Act 1998 was passed. In debates in Parliament on that Act, the Government on a number of occasions invited the JCHR (when established) to come forward with a view on the need for such a body. The Committee (which was first set up in January 2001), in seeking to establish whether a case can be made for the establishment of such a body, has been looking for evidence of whether there is an unmet need for arrangements to assist in the promotion and protection of human rights, and whether some form of independent, publicly-funded commission could meet some or all of those needs.

  In this context, the Committee has announced that it intends to respond to the Government's current consultation on the structure of a proposed single equalities body, which is to be established in the wake of the requirement to provide legislative protection against discrimination on grounds of age, religious belief or sexual orientation, in addition to the present grounds relating to race, gender and disability. [11]The Joint Committee itself published a short interim report on its inquiry in September 2002, [12]and intends to report again before the end of the consultation period that the Government has set for consideration of the future of the equality commissions. That consultation closes at the end of February 2003.

  You may have submitted evidence in response to the Committee's earlier calls for evidence. The Committee is also aware of the work done in this area by the British Institute of Human Rights, funded by Comic Relief. The conclusions of that research were published this month. [13]

  This request for further written submissions is seeking to add to that evidence in the specific context of the relationship between the proposals for a new structure for the equalities bodies and arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights.

  In its interim report, the Committee concluded that—

      If any proposals for measures to protect and promote equalities fail to address the relationship between those powers and functions and arrangements for promoting and protecting human rights, they are likely to be incoherent, incomplete and ineffective.

      In its interim report, the Committee also said—

      The purpose of our inquiry is not just to examine alternative institutional wiring diagrams for a human rights commission and come up with our own engineering blueprint. We want to know what difference a commission could make to the lives of citizens of the UK, especially those who do not presently enjoy their full human rights.

      It is in that context that the Committee is seeking further written evidence. It would be grateful if, in relation to the groups or individuals whom you represent, or to whom you provide services, you could answer any of the following questions which you consider applicable, or on which you have a view.

      —  What are the Convention rights (as set out in Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998) that are applicable to the problems faced by the people with whom you deal?

      —  What are the concerns that you have about failures in service provision by public bodies which may amount to a violation or potential violation of Convention rights?

      —  In relation to these issues, can you distinguish, where possible, between what you regard as breaches of the Human Rights Act in contrast to failures in best practice?

      —  Can you provide some indication of how widespread and how serious these problems are (that is, how many people are affected and how severely)?

      —  Can you identify which public bodies have responsibility in these areas, and outline why, in your view, they do not satisfactorily remedy the actual or potential detriments of rights for which they have responsibility (examples might include: lack of statutory powers, insufficient resources, inadequate training, failure of co-ordination or co-operation among responsible agencies, lack of a human rights culture)?

      —  Which inspectorates or other official "watchdogs" have jurisdiction over these matters, and what are your views on how and to what extent they address these concerns? Do they do so from a human rights perspective?

      —  Do the issues of concern that you have raised presently fall within the remit of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission or the Disability Rights Commission; and if they do, have they been taken up by any of these commissions and what have the outcomes been?

      —  Do you believe such issues will fall within the remit of the proposed single equalities commission after implementation of the EU Directive on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, religion and age?

      —  Do you believe they should fall within the remit of that proposed body?

      —  Can you describe any relevant legal action that has been taken since 2 October 2000 and the impact of the Human Rights Act on the outcome; can you comment on why legal action might not have been taken; and more generally give your view on the effectiveness of legal proceedings as a remedy for these concerns?

      —  What, in your view, are the essential remedial actions that need to be taken; do they involve legislative amendment; a change in policy; more resources and better training and/or a change in the culture within the relevant public bodies?

      —  Do you believe that there is a need for a body, independent of government, that has powers to promote and protect human rights? What action would you envisage such an institution taking to remedy the concerns described above? What powers would it need to have to do this effectively? How could it make a difference where existing mechanisms have so far failed to provide a remedy?

      —  Do you have a view on the structure of such a body? Should it be contained within a single equality commission or should it be separate? Why would these institutional arrangements make a practical difference in relation to the concerns that you have expressed? Is your case based on pragmatic considerations or on what you regard as issues of principle?

      The Committee fully accepts that replies to these questions will often be illustrative rather than exhaustive. It is hoped that you can focus on practical examples rather than theoretical arguments.

      In view of the timescale of the Government's consultation, responses received by Friday 17 January 2003 are likely to make most impact.

    19 December 2002

11   The Government's consultation paper, Equality and Diversity: Making It Happen, was published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Office, the Women & Equality Unit and the Department of Work and Pensions in October 2002. See in particular, pages 28 and 29 Back

12   Twenty-second Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights of Session 2001-02, The Case for a Human Rights Commission: Interim Report, House of Lords Paper 160/House of Commons Paper 1142, The Stationery Office Back

13   Something for Everyone: The Impact of the Human Rights Act and the Need for a Human Rights Commission, BIHR, 10 December 2002 Back

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