38. Memorandum from Mind (National
Association for Mental Health)
Mind (NAMH) is the leading mental health charity
in England and Wales. We work for a better life for everyone with
experience of mental distress by:
Advancing the views, needs and ambitions
of people with experience of mental distress.
Promoting inclusion through challenging
Influencing policy through campaigning
Inspiring the development of quality
services which reflect expressed need and diversity; and
Achieving equal legal and civil rights
through campaigning and education.
We are delighted to have been offered the opportunity
to put forward submissions to the Joint Committee as it considers
the desirability of a Human Rights Commission. This is an important
and timely debate on a matter of real significance for people
who have experienced mental health problems.
In summary, we believe that the creation of
a Human Rights Commission would be beneficial to our client group.
However, we are conscious that the Disability Rights Commissionwith
which we have excellent contactswas only recently established,
following concerted pressure by disability organisations including
Mind. In our view it would be highly detrimental to what has been
achieved so far if the activities of the DRC- and equally the
CRE and EOC- were to be in any way reduced or curtailed by the
creation of a Human Rights Commission. Instead their roles should
We address the complex question of how this
could be achieved in our detailed responses below to the questions
posed in the "call for evidence" dated 5 April 2001.
Most of the potential functions of a Human Rights
Commission (HRC), which have been well set out in this question,
are not currently provided by an existing agency in the United
Kingdom. We believe an HRC could usefully encompass all the functions
suggested and have no further suggestions to make.
We believe that the HRC should be accountable
to the Committee, on behalf of Parliament, and not to a Government
minister. (There should also be a line of accountability to the
Scottish Parliament for purely Scottish matters: see Question
4 below.) The Committee should have responsibility for reviewing
legislation, presenting reports to both Houses, commissioning
research and giving strategic direction to the Commission. The
Commission should be responsible for operational matters such
as decisions on when to bring enforcement proceedings, implementing
education initiatives, etc. The Chair of the HRC should present
a regularperhaps quarterlyreport to the Committee
outlining achievements, trends and current work, which would form
the basis for the Committee's report to both Houses.
We accept the suggested functions at Question
1. We would put these in the order (e), (a), (b) and (c). (d)developing
expertise in human rightsshould be implicit in all the
The reason for putting (e) (bringing legal proceedings)
above (c) (advice and assistance) is because of Mind's own experience.
We receive some 50 requests for legal advice each week, of which
a significant and increasing number relate to aspects of the European
Convention, especially Article 8. Our callers are often able to
obtain initial advice and sometimes have help with taking up matters
locally (item (c) in your list). However, the real need is for
a body to pursue "test cases" in the public interest
for which individuals find it hard to obtain legal or financial
support, and for which agencies lack the legal expertise. No-one
else is currently able to do this; we see it as a prime function
for an HRC, shortly followed by the general role of spreading
awareness at (a).
Mind operates in England and Wales only. The
Scottish and Northern Ireland Associations for Mental Health (SAMH
and NIAMH) may have their own views on these matters.
In principle we believe that there should be
a single HRC for all parts of the United Kingdom, to ensure consistency
and to present a united voice. However, we are aware that the
enabling human rights legislation is different in England &
Wales from in Scotland.
We therefore imagine that the HRC will inevitably
need to have a separate "reporting line" for purely
Scottish matters to a similar committee of the Scottish Parliament.
We do not feel qualified to comment on how this should operate,
nor to say anything about the relationship with the Northern Ireland
The HRC should have some form of relationship
with the Welsh Assembly. However, as the primary legislation is
the same for both countries we imagine that this will be a matter
of devolution protocol, and of respect for the separate identity
of the Welsh nation, rather than a constitutional requirement
as in Scotland.
We cannot comment on this either and would refer
the Committee to the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health
(a) We believe strongly that the creation
of an HRC should not in any way diminish the vital roles performed
by the existing Commissions. In particular we believe that any
reduction on the powers of the Disability Rights Commission would
risk sending an implicit message to disabled people that their
interests are once again regarded as of less significance than
other groups. Clearly there will need to be a clear working protocol
between the HRC and the other Commissions, but we do not in practice
think this will be difficult. Where the prime issue is one of
discrimination, on the grounds of gender, ethnicity or disability,
the matter should be referred to the specialist Commission even
if it also raises concerns about a violation of Convention rights.
Where the prime concern is with a violation of a Convention right
it should be referred to the HRC, even if it also raises questions
The Committee should note that a similar relationship
exists already between the Mental Health Act Commission and the
Health Service Commissioner, who have clearly defined demarcation
lines in their responsibilities, a mechanism for passing cases
to the other body where necessary and a recognised "appeal"
(b) It is most unlikely that there will be
a neat division between equal opportunity and human rights issues.
We believe that the best approach is a protocol as suggested (a)
This is a most important question. Given that
the Human Rights Act bites exclusively upon "public authorities"
(however defined) it is vital that an HRC should be free to challenge
central Government decisions without any appearance of bias; moreover,
it must itself be clearly seen to comply with Article 6.
(a) We suggest that the Chair, members and
Chief Executive should be Parliamentary appointments, voted through
at the time of the civil list and salaried in line with other
senior public servants. The other staff should be civil service
appointments, but not answerable to a ministersee below.
(b) The salaries for the Chair and Chief
Executive, and remuneration for members, should be voted through
both Houses as with other senior public appointments. Staff salaries
should be according to civil service scales. More importantly,
the budget for the HRC should be provided through the Cabinet
Office: this would send a clear message that its working was central
to the openness of Government itself.
(c) We are sure that the Chair of HRC should
be accountable to Parliament through the Joint Committee and not
to a minister, for the reasons given above. Although we are not
experts in constitutional matters we believe that a useful analogy
might be the relationship between the Public Accounts Committee
and the Comptroller & Auditor General.
(d) Answered at Question 4. The HRC must
have a line of accountability to a committee of the Scottish Parliament
in respect of purely Scottish matters, because constitutionally
they will be implementing devolved legislation.
We cannot answer this question. Clearly staffing
and budget would depend upon the functions a HRC was required
to perform. We would naturally caution against raising public
expectations of the body but not resourcing it adequately for
We believe that an HRC should have all the stated
As the Committee will be aware, the Human Rights
Act is of great importance in the field of mental health; it is
significant that one of the earliest declarations of incompatibility
concerned the Mental Health Act 1983. We would hope that any legislation
establishing the remit of a new HRC would set out explicitly that
it can review the human rights, among other disadvantaged groups,
of those in the psychiatric system.
This may seem obvious, but the Disability Discrimination
Act 1995, which covers both physical and mental impairments, nevertheless
failed to address mental health conditions adequately in its First
Schedule. This has caused considerable difficulties in its interpretation
in tribunals. It would be very helpful, we think, if the remit
of the future HRC were to be set out as clearly as is needed,
to avoid any misunderstanding.
28 June 2001