13. Memorandum from the Association
of Chief Police Officers
1. The Association of Chief Police Officers
for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) has been active
and positive in its continuing work to ensure that the Police
Service is compliant with the principles and spirit of the European
Convention on Human Rights.
2. Policing in the UK is accountable to
the public that it serves in many ways that range widely in character,
formality and independence. Further developments in the near future
are likely to make the procedures for the investigation of complaints
against the police even more robust.
3. In the context of this evolving culture
of accountability within policing and across many other key public
authorities, it will be important to ensure that any model for
a Human Rights Commission complements, rather than duplicates,
existing mechanisms of scrutiny.
4. The Lord Chancellor has stated that the
Human Rights Act would need a "bedding down period"
before the establishment of a Commission should be considered.
Current judgements in our courts would suggest that it may be
some years before the Convention rights have an established and
purposive meaning and effect within domestic jurisprudence.
5. This may begin to suggest that the "bedding
down period" is not yet complete and that the question of
whether a Commission is required should be deferred. The corollary
is that if such a body were to be established, the case for it
to have investigative powers may not yet be made out. There is
a danger that the assumption of such duties might damage the credibility
of the Commission at an early stage if its interpretation of the
Convention freedoms were to outpace that of the domestic courts.
6. If there is a role for a Human Rights
Commission at present, it may centre around promotional and advisory
functions. An authoritative and independent source of guidance
on human rights may be of benefit to public authorities and the
7. The Association of Chief Police Officers
for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) welcomes the opportunity
to present the Joint Committee with the Association's views on
the potential configuration and role of a Human Rights Commission
for the United Kingdom.
8. It may be relevant to preface our submission
with an introduction to the ways in which the Police Service has
responded to the demands of the Human Rights Act together with
a summary of the existing mechanisms for police accountability
with which any Commission would interact and co-exist. Effectively,
these factors establish the context in which the answers to the
Committee's questions have been framed.
9. ACPO has been positive in its approach
to the Human Rights Act, viewing the legislation as an opportunity
for enhancing the quality of service delivery and the Service's
relationship with the communities it serves.
10. The ACPO Human Rights Working Group
was created in 1998 and subsequently established a Human Rights
Programme Team comprising police officers and support staff working
full time on the issues raised by the legislation.
11. In its early stages, the team established
meaningful working relationships with a wide range of partner
statutory agencies and non-governmental bodies and this broad
consultation has informed the Service's approach.
12. A primary role for the team is to audit
service-wide policy and procedure for compliance with the Human
Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights. Audit tools
have been developed for this purpose and the ACPO team have also
ensured that the knowledge and experience that they have gained
has been shared across the Service and has been used to inform
the local audit and amendment of forces' own policies and guidance.
13. As a result of the first round of ACPO
audits in 10 business areas identified as presenting a high risk,
1,685 potential compliance issues were identified and further
explored through referral to relevant parties such as the Home
Office and legal advisers. Some of the more visible products of
this work have been the redrafted Firearms and Public Order manuals.
These rewrites have not only sought to resolve potential human
rights problems, but also to integrate the letter and spirit of
the rights into the documents in a thoroughgoing way. The Convention's
principles of accountability and transparency have also been reflected
in the work so that the non-tactical elements of these manuals
are now in the public domain for the first time.
14. The Director of Liberty, John Wadham,
perhaps best described the structure and intention of this element
of the programme. "ACPO has been extremely systematic and
I applaud their approach. There has been no attempt to avoid difficult
issues. Dealing with potential `Hotspots' creates the best chance
of avoiding violations of the Convention, and by taking such action
the UK police service can enhance its commitment to human rights
and its global reputation".
15. While the work of policy review goes
on at both ACPO and local levels, the Service has also put in
place a substantial human rights training programme consisting
of four modules designed to cater for the differing needs of all
ranks and grades of officers and support staff.
16. It is also recognised that the implications
of the Human Rights Act should not be confined to one training
session, but should be properly considered throughout existing
training programmes. As a result, relevant Convention issues and
principles have been integrated into existing training courses
by incorporating human rights considerations into the National
17. The Service's preparation for, and ongoing
work in respect of, the Human Rights Act reflects the believe
that one of the primary purposes of policing is the protection
of individuals' human rights.
18. If a Human Rights Commission were established
for the UK, it is unlikely that it would have the scope to absorb
or supervise all of the existing routes through which the Police
Service is accountable. As a result, it would be important to
ensure that any Commission did not conflict with, or duplicate,
19. Over the past several decades, the Police
Service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has seen a welcome
increase in the number of mechanisms through which it is accountable.
20. More informal arrangements that influence
and scrutinise the local delivery of policing include the lay
visitor scheme and Police Community Consultative Committees.
21. There are numerous more formal processes
and bodies that influence the direction of policing within forces
and which hold officers, basic command units or constabularies
to account. Crime Reduction Partnerships and the consultative
nature of Crime and Disorder plans give the public and local authorities
a voice in service delivery. Police Authorities, Best Value review,
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Audit Commission
and the District Auditor provide further layers of independent
scrutiny. While the complaints process is overseen by the Police
Complaints authority, judicial review and civil litigation provide
further options for enquiry and remedy. Indeed, it is likely that
the system for investigating complaints against police will become
even more robust in the relatively near future with the development
of a new independent body with responsibility for, and oversight
of, all complaints against the Police. More systemic problems
may be within the scope of the existing equality Commissions or
even become the subject of examination by the Parliamentary Home
Affairs Committee. Ultimately section 49 of the Police Act 1996
allows for the appointment of a public inquiry "into any
matter connected with the policing of any area".
22. The Police Service Statement of Common
Purpose and Values emphasises that: "The purpose of the police
service is to uphold the law fairly and firmly; to prevent crime;
to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law; to keep
the Queen's peace; to protect, help and reassure the community;
and to be seen to do all this with integrity, common sense and
sound judgement". While retaining focus on the key objectives
of preventing and detecting crime and maintaining the peace, we
are beginning to learn and adapt to what the Convention rights
and principles can add to the touchstones of fairness, "integrity,
common sense and sound judgement" which govern our service
23. The courts as well as other key public
authorities are also in the process of coming to terms with the
Convention. The Lord Chancellor has said that the Human Rights
Act would need a "bedding down period" before the establishment
of a Commission to support it should be considered. Indeed, it
is in domestic case law that the full or legal meaning of the
rights within the UK will emerge. Current judgements would suggest
that it may be some years before the Convention rights have an
established and purposive effect within domestic jurisprudence.
24. This may begin to suggest that the "bedding
down period" is not complete and that as a result, the time
may not yet be right for a Commission. The corollary is that if
such a body were to be established, the case for it to have investigative
powers is not yet made out. There is a danger that if it were
to take on such a role, the Commission's credibility might be
damaged at an early stage if its interpretation of the Convention
freedoms were to outspaceand be undermined bythat
of the domestic courts.
25. In addition, the United Kingdom is fortunate
enough to enjoy a political and legal system that already guarantees
certain rights and freedoms. A mature justice system and a culture
of accountability and performance management within the public
services provide further safeguards.
26. In the case of the Police Service for
example, it is clear that many of the existing mechanisms for
accountability will need to consider human rights issues, but
this does not necessarily imply that a Human Rights Commission
is required to undertake these functions. It may be impractical
to dismantle the existing arrangements and reconstitute them within
a Commission. Equally, it is likely that a Commission with full
oversight powers might duplicate the work of the many different
bodies and statutory structures that make up the existing system.
27. If there is a role for a Human Rights
Commission at this time, it may be promotional and advisory. An
authoritative source of guidance on human rights that informs
the public, public authorities and the bodies and mechanisms that
scrutinise the provision of public services may be of benefit
Question 1. What (if anything) do you
think a Human Rights Commission might add to the current methods
of protecting human rights in the United Kingdom? In particular,
are there useful 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 United Kingdom,
(a) Fostering a human rights culture in
the United Kingdom
28. The Home Office Human Rights Task Force
and publications like "Core Guidance for Public Authorities"
may be a model of how Government, the public sector and NGOs can
work together to promote an issue in a measured and useful way.
However, the continued existence of such groupings cannot be guaranteed.
An independent Human Rights Commission might be better able to
provide the information and guidance that public authorities will
require in the longer term to assist them in ensuring that their
performance management regimes take proper and meaningful account
of human rights issues.
29. There is perhaps a risk that without
guidance and leadership from an authoritative body, the "culture"
may become either one of avoidance of litigation or of complacency
if "Convention-friendly" judgements continue to be the
exception rather than the rule within domestic courts.
30. The Police Service works with many partner
agencies whose approach to the protection of human rights may
be different from our own. A common human rights standard promoted
by a Commission would help to provide a more uniform understanding
of the issues between the Service and the partners with whom it
(b) Education in human rights
31. Raising public awareness of the rights
may be essential to the success of the Human Rights Act within
the UK by ensuring that an understanding of rights is leavened
with an awareness of the responsibilities that go with these freedoms,
It may be that an independent Commission could make this case
with more effect than either the Police Service or Government.
32. Over the next several years, the Convention
rights are likely still to be finding a footing within the domestic
courts. During this period, there may be a role for a body to
promote the rights and their positive ethical impact upon the
public services. This would accord with the Police Service's approach
and prevent the Human Rights Act from being perceived as merely
a (somewhat unreliable) tool for litigants.
(c) Advising and assisting people who
claim to be victims of violations of their Convention Rights
33. It may be that the Commission should
not devote substantial resources to providing specific advice
that is available elsewhere. Instead, a focus upon the provision
of generic information and guidance to organisations such as the
Citizen's Advice Bureaux and Law Centres may support the Commission's
goals of fostering a human rights culture and raising public awareness
without diverting resources to answer individual queries that
would perhaps be more appropriately handled by legal firms in
the private sector.
(d) Developing expertise in human rights
34. At present, there may be some duplication
within public authorities as they develop and maintain teams to
try to ensure that their organisation's policy and practice are
compliant with the demands of the Convention as mediated by the
Human Rights Act. At least some of this duplication could be relieved
by research and information being pooled within an accessible
national institution. Certainly, ACPO would welcome a body that
could give authoritative and consistent assistance and advice
to the public, public authorities and quasi-public authorities
(e) Bringing legal proceedings on human
rights issues in the public interest
35. If a case has merits and is in the public
interest, then existing agencies such as the Legal Services Commission
should ensure that it is formally pursued. Just as the provision
of advice to victims should perhaps be confined to the provision
of general guidance and information, so the Commission should
guide victims towards the bodies that already exist to assist
them rather than duplicate their function.
36. Existing equality Commissions with similar
powers were founded upon clear domestic legislation whose implications
were comparatively foreseeable. In contrast, the Human Rights
Act provides a somewhat uncertain mechanism for "domesticating"
the Convention principles and Strasbourg's judgements. In effect,
the legal meaning of the rights within the UK has not yet emerged
through domestic case law and seems unlikely to do so for some
years. The Lord Chancellor has stated that the Human Rights Act
would need a "bedding down period" before the establishment
of a Commission should be considered and it could be argued that
this period is not yet complete. There is a risk therefore that
if the Commission were to take on this role, its credibility might
be damaged at an early stage if its interpretation of the Convention
freedoms were to exceed that of the domestic courts.
Question 2. If a Human Rights Commission
were established, how should its role and functions relate to
those of this Committee?
37. Although the constitutional framework
for Commissions is not an area in which the Police Service has
particular expertise, there are a number of potential models.
For example, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission is obliged
to present its annual report to the House of Representatives.
The Danish Centre for Human Rights has more limited aims, but
is a statutory body. It reports to a non-parliamentary council
or board whose members must be drawn from a representative range
of Danish political (and other) opinion.
38. The Joint Committee seems to mediate
between these two models in a helpful way since it represents
to varying degrees, a spectrum of political opinion, human rights
expertise and parliamentary oversight somewhat distinct from Government.
It could be that any Commission should report to the Joint Committee
which would be able to review the body's achievements and contribute
influentially to its ongoing agenda by requesting or suggesting
research in particular areas of concern.
39. In order to preserve its independence,
a Commission should perhaps be influenced, rather than bound by
the Committee's recommendations. A check and balance on this independence
may be found in the precedent set by the arrangements for the
Information Commissioner. The holder of this office may be dismissed,
but only with the consent of both Houses of Parliament and in
accordance with the conditions set out in the statute that established
Question 3. In what order of priority
would you arrange the functions of such 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?
40. ACPO believes that promotional, educational
and advisory activities should be the primary focus for the work
of a Human Rights Commission. The order of functions set out at
1. (a)-(e) seem properly to rank the priority that should be accorded
to these roles and the Police Service's views on the scope or
definition of these tasks are set out in the response to Question
Question 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 United Kingdom, or separate bodies
for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or both a United
Kingdom body and bodies with territorial responsibilities? (The
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission must continue to exist,
as this is one of the requirements of the United Kingdom's agreement
with Ireland about the future of Northern Ireland).
41. ACPO recognises that the constitutional
arrangements for Wales and Scotland imply that these areas may
have varying degrees of autonomy in deciding whether they wish
to establish their own Human Rights Commission. However, a single
body for the mainland may be the option most likely to provide
the authoritative and consistent guidance that the police and
other public authorities may seek from a Commission.
42. It may not be certain at this stage
that the human rights issues within Wales, Scotland and England
are so diverse as to require separate or additional bodies. While
Scotland's distinctive legal and administrative systems may make
a case for the provision of specialised guidance, this does not
necessarily imply that a separate Scottish Commission in the only
viable response to this need.
43. Unless there is clear and persuasive
evidence that separate Commissions for England, Wales or Scotland
are required, a single Commission for the mainland may be an appropriate
position to take initially. If it is established in the future
that additional Commissions are required, then the question could
Question 5. If there were to be Human
Rights Commission with responsibilities for the whole United Kingdom
(whether or not it operated alongside other bodies with responsibility
for just one part of the United Kingdom), what relationship should
there be between its work in respect of Northern Ireland and the
work of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (and similar
Commissions in Scotland and Wales if they are established at some
time in the future)?
44. The distinctive circumstances in Northern
Ireland suggest that the Commission there and any mainland equivalent
should have close informal relations, but that the Northern Ireland
body should remain independent of the mainland Commission and
retain sole "jurisdiction" within Northern Ireland.
45. If the primary role of the UK (or mainland)
Commission is to be promotion and the provision of guidance, then
this would distinguish it from the Northern Ireland body in a
way that would be supportive of the Commissions existing independently.
46. If Commissions were established within
Wales, England and Scotland, these bodies should be primarily
responsible for issues emanating from the devolved Executives,
leaving other matters which remain the province of Central Government
to be dealt with by the UK (or mainland) Commission.
Question 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 Northern Ireland? In particular:
(a) should a Human Rights Commission perform
functions now performed by existing specialist 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?
(b) if a Human Rights Commission were
to co-exist with the existing equality Commissions, should issues
relating to equal opportunities be excluded from the result of
the Human Rights Commission and be given to the equality Commissions?
47. For reasons explored elsewhere, ACPO
would favour a Commission that focuses upon promotional and advisory
work, on raising public awareness and providing structured guidance
for public (and quasi-public) authorities and the bodies that
48. Rather than deal formally with complaints,
the commission would refer individuals to the relevant equality
Commission, Ombudsman or other body with jurisdiction. Where no
satisfactory alternative remedy exists, the Commission could provide
members of the public with advice on seeking legal representation.
In some cases, an informal approach to the public authority concerned
could be made on behalf of the complainant.
49. This style of body would not threaten
the existence or remit of existing Commissions. However, a working
relationship with them could be established that might result
in joint, or at least co-ordinated, publications and other activities
that would deal with shared themes in an agreed manner.
50. With the Convention rights still "bedding
down" within the UK, a body with modest aims and scope may
be the right first response rather than initially investing wider
powers within a Commission that will fulfil an incompletely determined
need. Over time, the case may be made out for an expansion of
the body's role and it could grow accordingly. Indeed, the gradual
evolution and unification of the equality and Human Rights Commissions
in Australia indicates how far this process may develop. The ability
for the public, public authorities and business to make a "one-stop-shop"
for guidance, codes of practice and advice on the gamut of equality
and rights issues would be beneficial. Whether this and related
needs will ultimately result in the formation of a single equalities
body in the future is yet to be seen.
Question 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?
(a) how should its Chair, members and
key staff be appointed?
51. Although this is not an area of expertise
for the Police Service, it is suggested that the selection process
should be undertaken by the Office of the Commissioner for Public
Appointments with the ultimate responsibility for appointments
resting with the responsible Minister and/or representatives from
the Joint Committee.
(b) how should its funding be provided?
52. It has been suggested by Liberty that
funding should be provided by way of grant in aid from the sponsoring
department. ACPO is supportive of this suggestion. Other additional
sources of non-governmental funding might include financial support
from United Nations or European funds for particular promotional
activities. Charging for certain services and the acceptance of
donations could also be considered provided that the arrangements
did not conflict with either the role of the independence of the
(c) to whom should it be accountable (for
example, to a parliamentary body)?
53. The response to Question 2 briefly explores
this area. The Joint Committee on Human Rights may itself provide
a suitable mechanism for accountability. The terms of reference
for the Committee could be amended to include this additional
(d) how should the matters mentioned in
(a), (b) and (c) take account of devolution to Northern Ireland,
Scotland and Wales?
54. It may be that the relevant parliament
and assemblies will wish to develop their own views on this issue.
While altering the structures of accountability for the Northern
Ireland Commission may not be appropriate, there may be few obstacles
in principle to inhibit the mainland Commission(s) (or its regional
offices) from reporting to the devolved bodies on issues within
their jurisdiction or concern.
Question 8. In the light of your answers
to Questions 1 to 7, 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?
55. A promotional and advisory Commission
for the mainland might be expected to be of a structure and size
comparable to that of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
This body comprises one full-time Chief Commissioner, eight part-time
Commissioners and 13 staff and operating with a budget of £750,000
per annum (although the Chief Commissioner has recently stated
that a budget of £1.5 million would be more appropriate).
56. Although ACPO may not be best placed
to speculate on the staffing level or annual cost of running a
Commission, it is clear that if such a body is to function effectively,
it must have adequate support and resources.
Question 9. Some Commissions 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 raised within their remits. If a Human Rights Commission
were to be established, what powers should it have?
57. It may be of benefit for the public
services and the public if part of the Commission's advisory function
were devoted to providing codes of practice for public authorities.
In the case of the Police Service, such codes could catalyse existing
systems of accountability by acting as an authoritative basis
from which relevant performance indicators could be derived by
bodies like Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. It is
recognised however that for such guidance to be purposive, it
would need to be founded upon evidence of current police performance.
For this reason, ACPO would accept an obligation to provide relevant
information to a Human Rights Commission in much the same fashion
as it does to other statutory bodies such as the Audit Commission.
Queston 10. Are there other relevant
issues or considerations which have not been covered in answers
to the earlier questions?
58. These areas are briefly explored within
the introductory remarks towards the front of this memorandum.
28 June 2001