Ensuring impartiality in the Commission's
31. The Human Rights Commission's impartiality must
be evident throughout its work. Although some of those who submitted
evidence to our inquiry suggested bias in the Commission's selection
of topics for research or inquiry, it
is clear that the Commission has striven to address issues of
concern to all communities. We note that at
least one external institution has already sought to put pressure
on the Commission in carrying out its role. The Chief Commissioner
stated: "I cannot recall any Government Department putting
pressure on us not to pursue litigation".
Elsewhere, however, he did admit, "as is already public knowledge
there was a letter sent to us by the then Chief Constable in relation
to a particular case that we were involved in, that is currently
sub judice, and I am not sure it is appropriate to go into
the details of that
but that is already public knowledge".
Whatever is the outcome of that case, the conduct of the then
Chief Constable in sending such a letter and the reaction of the
NIHRC Chief Commissioner must be a cause of concern. In written
evidence the solicitors Madden & Finucane enclosed a copy
of a letter sent from the then Chief Constable of the then RUC
to the Chief Commissioner on 21 March 2002.
Inter alia, the Chief Constable "very strongly urge[d] the
Commission to review its funding decision" and "strongly"
maintained that it was inappropriate for the Commission to continue
to commit public funds to this litigation. He continued: "The
Commission is, of course, at liberty to reconsider, review and
revoke decisions of this nature at any time. Please treat this
letter as a solemn and formal request for review and revocation".
In reply, the Chief Commissioner wrote
Our Commission meets again on Monday 8 April and
we will be considering then our involvement in this particular
litigation. I should be able to let your office know on the following
day what the outcome of our consideration has been. I would be
most grateful if you could delay taking a decision on the disclosure
of my letter of 4 December until then.
The Commission can not be expected
to tolerate interference in its independence.
We welcome the statement of the then Minister, in his evidence
to us, that the independence of the Commission should be judged
not solely by its composition but by its work. We also welcome
the fact that the Commission's mission statement commits it to
being "independent, fair, open, accessible and accountable"
in its activities, to being "committed to equality of opportunity
for all and to the participation of others in its work" and
to performing its functions "in a manner which is efficient,
informative and in the interests of all the people of Northern
Ireland." The Commission's Strategic Plan for 2002-2006 stresses
the importance it places on the impartial conduct of its work.
We strongly recommend that
the effectiveness of the Commission should be assessed by what
it does, not by identifying the community background of individual
32. However, we do have concerns about the extent
to which the financial arrangements for the commission may compromise
its independence, and we now examine these.