6. Memorandum from CARE
1. Care is pleased to have this opportunity
to comment on the operation and effectiveness of the Northern
Ireland Human Rights Commission to date, its functions, powers
2. We would like to emphasise in the first
instance that the work of the Commission must be viewed in the
context of the commitments made in the Belfast Agreement, the
wider democratic institutions in Northern Ireland, and the development
of equality and human rights legislation both prior to the signing
of the Belfast Agreement and since.
3. Care is concerned that the perception
that the NIHRC is unrepresentative hinders their work and the
development of trust and good work relationships within the wider
4. This perception may reflect concern regarding
the process of appointments to the Commission and the extent to
which the Commission as a body represents the community balance.
However, we are also aware of concern caused by the Commission's
choice of issues to investigate and causes to champion.
5. The Commission submitted a review of
its powers and effectiveness to the Secretary of State in March
2001. CARE agreed with the Secretary of State's proposal to deal
with most of the recommendations through administrative instead
of legislative changes.
6. We were particularly pleased that the
Government has rejected Recommendation 11 demanding privileged
access to draft laws and policies. We are concerned that such
an amendment to the Northern Ireland Act would actually have the
effect of undermining the work, and indeed the democracy of the
Assembly and Parliament. We believe that it is inappropriate for
any Non-Departmental Public Body to receive copies of draft laws
and policies prior to the introduction in the Assembly or Parliament.
7. We support the Government's assertion
(point 62, page 17) that ultimately it will remain "the responsibility
of Government and Parliament to take decisions about how best
to determine policy and frame legislation, within the context
set by the Human Rights Act". We agree that it would be inappropriate
for the Commission's role to go beyond providing advice to the
Government and the Executive. We would not like the distinction
between role of the Government and the role of the Commission
to be blurred, as may result from the implementation of the Commission's
8. We do not agree that the Commission should
be able to bring proceedings in it's own name
and we were pleased that the Government rejected that suggestion
for the reasons they outlined in their report.
9. CARE does not agree that the NIHRC should
have a specific role in shaping the educational curriculum.
CARE is concerned that the NIHRC may press an agenda of human
rights education that does not allow for adequate critical consideration
of human rights as either an ideology or system of beliefs.
10. There are many public bodies, organisations
and individuals who provide advice and assistance to the Department
of Education with reference to all aspects of education and the
Curriculumthis is particularly evident from the vast number
of responses received by the Department regarding the Burns Review
of Post-Primary Education. The NIHRC obviously has a role to play
in providing such comment and advice, but we do not consider it
appropriate for the Commission to be given a privileged role.
11. CARE support the position taken by the
Government in rejecting recommendations 22, 23 and 24. We believe
that it is essential that the role of the Commission remains distinct
from those of the court, the police and other Commissions and
Ombudsmen. Granting such extensive investigative powers would
clearly necessitate an entire review of the role and accountability
of the Commission.
12. We believe that the Commission must
work within the financial constraints of the budget it has been
set and bid for any additional money as is currently the practice.
We believe the Commission overstepped its remit in drafting a
Bill of Rights and this may be the reason why it is finding it
difficult to keep to the budget it has been set.
13. It is CARE's opinion that the NIHRC
has far exceeded its statutory duties in actually drafting a proposed
bill of rights for Northern Ireland. The Belfast Agreement requires
the NIHRC to advise the Secretary of State on the scope for defining
in Westminster legislation rights supplemental to the ECHR to
form a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.
14. We therefore do not believe that the
Commission should have drafted a bill of rights and we do not
agree that the case has been proven that it is necessary for Northern
Ireland to have its own bill of rights given that the ECHR has
been incorporated into domestic law. CARE believes that the European
Charter of Human Rights, incorporated into domestic law as the
Human Rights Act 1998, is a balanced and effective document.
15. CARE does not consider that the NIHRC
has made a good case for the addition of any more provisions on
the basis that they are specifically relating to the particular
circumstances of Northern Ireland.
16. The Commission has not persuaded us
that there is a need to comprehensively supplement the provisions
of the ECHR. Indeed, we are concerned that the Commission's proposals
will only serve to bind the hands of current and future elected
representatives on specific policy issues. The Commission has
not set out principles but a list of rules.
17. CARE does not believe that it is appropriate
that legitimate matters for political discussion and decision
should be usurped by either unelected human rights commissioner
nor unelected judges. We have been disappointed that the Commission
has sought to short-circuit current and future consultation processes
by the highly detailed provisions set out within their proposed
draft bill of rights.
18. We entirely agree with the Commission
that it is essential that rights are balanced with responsibilities.
However, we have observed that throughout this document very little
mention has been made of the responsibilities that must be attached
to each right.
19. We do not agree that this proposed bill
of rights will be "a rallying point for all sections of the
community regardless of their political beliefs or past grievances".
We do not believe that the Commission's proposals will secure
the support of a majority of people in Northern Ireland.
20. We have been disappointed by the brevity
of the consultation period and the lack of clarity as to how the
consultation responses will be considered and that indeed, the
Commission has stated that nothing will be taken out of this proposed
draft bill of rights, only that more will be added.
21. We have noted with concern that the
NIHRC has sought to maximise out of proportion most of the provisions
within the ECHR, except for the right most basic to the concept
of human dignity, that of the right to life. Human dignity is
an obsolete concept if human life is not respected. The principle
of respecting and preserving human life is surely the linchpin
of all other concerns. We are deeply disappointed that the Commission
has not attempted to crystallise their deep concern for humanity
by stating without reservation its respect for life from the moment
of conception, irrespective of age, gender, ability and health.
87 The Government's Response to the Northern Ireland
Human Rights Commission's Review of Powers Recommendations, May
2002, point 62, page 17. Back
NIHRC Recommendation 17. Back
NIHRC Recommendation 21. Back