The introduction of the HRA coincided with a
period of significant change in local government driven by the
Local Government Act 2000. The HRA was recognised as a major issue
for local government but it was not a first priority and not something
that it was fully prepared for on day one. However, this has since
proved to be the high water mark. In local government, human rights
are now drifting on an ebbing tide.
6.1 Preparing local authorities for the introduction of the
Human Rights Act
In section three, we examined the degree to
which the mainstreaming of human rights would have helped to prepare
local government for the introduction and continued application
of the Human Rights Act. Local government, in England and Wales
alone, consists of over 400 local authorities. It is well beyond
the ability of a single government department to work directly
with each of these authorities. Other carriers would have to play
their part in bringing the "human rights message" to
6.2 Local Government Association
The LGA is the main representative body for
local government in England and Wales. It is a subscription organisation
(not a public body) with 100 per cent membership of local authorities.
The LGA tends to be the first point of contact in the "local
government family" which involves it working closely with
three statutory bodiesthe Employers' Organisation, Regulatory
Services and the Improvement and Development Agency for Local
Government. The main focuses of the LGA are on policy development
and lobbying, supporting local authorities and developing good
The LGA was quick to grasp the need for local
government to prepare for the introduction of the HRA. It participated
in the Home Office Human Rights Task Force and contributed to
the "Core Guidance for Public Authorities" produced
by the Home Office and Task Force. It published two guides on
the HRA which were widely read within local government. The first
provided a pocket-sized introduction to the Act, the second a
more detailed examination of the implications of Article 6 of
the Convention for local authority decision making. 7 The LGA
organised a number of seminars and conferences on the HRA. It
was instrumental in setting up the local government lawyers' group
(see section 6.3 below) to examine Convention issues with particular
implications for local government. It monitored and published
research on the steps being taken by local authorities to implement
the HRA (see section 6.7 below). It began a process of considering
how a human rights culture could be incorporated into the best
value frameworks being established in local authorities.
If this report had been written at the end of
2000, there would have been real cause for encouragement at the
steps being taken by the LGA to assist local authorities in implementing
the HRA. The position now is much less cheering. The LGA is well
attuned to the priorities of government. The current lack of political
drive behind the human rights agenda and the absence of courtroom
action have removed human rights from the LGA's own agenda. At
this time, it has no human rights programme of work. The human
rights pages on its website have remained unaltered for over a
year. No one within the LGA is tasked with monitoring human rights
developments or case law. Its lack of activity is also an accurate
reflection of the low demand now for human rights information
from within local government.
By comparison, the handling of equality issues
remains high among the priorities of the LGA. It is an active
participant in the debates over the need for a single equality
body and single equalities act. It is advising local authorities
on the development of race equality schemes. There is a dedicated
DIALOG (diversity in action in local government) team in the Employers'
Organisation and a dedicated equalities team within the LGA. The
CRE participates in relevant "local government family"
working groups and networks. None of this exists for human rights.
6.3 Local Government Human Rights Joint Liaison Group
It is a long established practice of local government
lawyers to establish specific groups to consider the implications
of new initiatives for local government. The Local Government
Human Rights Joint Liaison Group was set up in early 2000 following
discussions between the Law Society Local Government Group, the
LGA and the Association of Council Secretaries and Solicitors
(ACSeS). The group had around a dozen members mostly identified
by the LGA. Since its second meeting the group has been chaired
by a lawyer from a southern county council.
The need for the group arose from concerns among
local government lawyers that there was no forum in which to consider
and debate human rights issues as they would impact on local government.
The guidance being put out by central government was thought to
be too general for this purpose and DETR gave no indication that
it would take the lead or provide guidance on the implications
for local government.
The group had an active lifespan of about 18
months and has not met now for over a year (although this may
change as its remit has been extended since June 2002 to cover
freedom of information matters). The group started work with an
expectation that the Human Rights Act would have significant implications
for local government. It focused on three areas:
auditing of policies and procedures
for compliance with the HRA and ECHR;
establishing the training needs of
lawyers and service staff; and
making human rights part of the corporate
governance process in local authorities.
During the preparation period for the HRA, the
group considered what guidance was required and how the new human
rights regime should be linked into the systems (best value etc)
being introduced under the Local Government Act 2000. With the
HRA in place, members shared experiences and practices in conducting
audits and setting up systems to comply with the HRA and ECHR.
Some common problem areas, for example, planning and licensing
were also discussed.
The group has maintained communication with
a counterpart group in Scotland but has had no contact with either
of the lawyers' groups in central government.
The group produced no guidance of its own but
it was involved in the preparation of the two LGA guides. Its
deliberations were also fed to a wider audience through the LGA
while issues raised with the association were brought to the group
The group's sense of purpose diminished rapidly
as it became clear that there would not be a large number of significant
challenges impacting on the work of local government. Since October
2000, there have been no cases that have prompted the group to
meet to consider a course of action (the closest the group came
to doing this was with the Alconbury judgement).
6.4 Association of Local Authority Risk Managers (ALARM)
In 2000, the Association of Local Authority
Risk Managers (ALARM) formed a working group comprising representatives
from local authorities, commercial law firms and public sector
insurers to consider the implications of the HRA for local government.
The work was prompted by concern that problems could arise in
insuring public authorities for actions that were found to be
incompatible with the HRA. The Working Group produced a comprehensive
guide to the HRA describing the potential impact of the HRA for
public authorities, providing guidance on how to incorporate human
rights considerations into the decision making processes of public
authorities and offering a model risk management plan/hazard index.
8 The guide was distributed to local authorities through the risk
It has been difficult to judge the impact of
this guide as it was in use in only one of the local authorities
examined for this report. What is clear is that there has been
no follow up by ALARM and the impact of the guide (two years down
the road) is likely to be correspondingly small. A number of the
local authorities examined for this report expressed the need
for just the sort of practical guidance contained in the ALARM
guide without being aware of its availability.
6.5 Guidance provided by other bodies
A number of other organisations have been active
in providing guidance for public authorities on the implications
of the HRA. Apart from the efforts of the Home Office/LCD and
the Human Rights Task Force, human rights were identified as a
business opportunity by law firms, representative bodies and even
human rights NGOs. All produced guidance, held seminars and offered
training on human rights matters for local authorities. Organisations
such as CAPITA and CIPFA held major conferences aimed at those
working in public authorities. Similar events, if normally on
a smaller scale, were held by human rights NGOs which also did
some training for individual public authorities. The Local Government
Information Unit held seminars, produced guidance and offered
a helpline service (which no longer appears to be in operation).
Commercial law firms produced guidance and often provided free
awareness raising training for individual public authorities as
the hook to win further business (specialist training or auditing
of policies and procedures). Some of these firms continue to provide
subscription or free updates on human rights matters (although
there are now few subscribers among public authorities).
Demand for training and information has fallen
markedly over the two years that the HRA has been in operation.
CAPITA and CIPFA no longer organise conferences on human rights
matters for public authorities (data protection and freedom of
information are the new hot topics). Other players have also left
the field although there is a small residue of training activity
conducted by commercial law firms with small peaks of activity
after local government elections (eg where there are changes in
council membership or political control).
Among the local authorities examined as part
of this report, there was some sense of a "backlash"
against obtaining further outside assistance on human rights matters.
It was felt that the potential impact of the HRA had been overstated
almost to the point of "scaremongering" during the build
up to October 2000. The impact of the HRA on local government,
in the first two years, had proved to be minimal and, in harsh
budgetary terms, had not justified the time, money and attention
that had been paid to the issue.
6.6 District Audit
District Audit is the auditing arm of the Audit
Commission with a client base in health and local government.
In the Autumn of 2000, it piloted work to ascertain what steps
were being taken by organisations working in these areas to reduce
the risk of legal challenges arising from the HRA. The results
"Feedback from pilots for local government
showed considerable variation in the way local authorities prepared
for the Act. A number had not carried out a review of their policies
and procedures for compliance with the Act. In general the health
pilots were less well prepared with piecemeal arrangements being
This convinced District Audit that it should
develop comprehensive audit arrangements and a diagnostic tool
with the objective of assessing whether the bodies it audits have:
"effective management arrangements
in place for complying with the Act
identified their key risk areas,
which could be subject to challenge under the Act and, as such,
have introduced changes to minimise legal, financial and reputational
taken steps to build a rights based
established management arrangements
to ensure its contractors/partners are compliant with the Act
on-going monitoring and review arrangements."
The diagnostic tool was tested on five willing
public authorities in 2001.
During the course of 2001, District Audit surveyed
how some 88 public bodies were implementing the Human Rights Act.
The task was undertaken by its auditors as part of the normal
audit inspection process (using a good practice checklist developed
as a precursor to the diagnostic tool). The disturbing results
were published in May 2002 (see section 6.7 below). All public
authorities received a copy of the bulletin (it was also included
in a joint mail shot with the revised LCD study guide). Each of
the 88 bodies covered, received an individual report and action
plan on their human rights performance. The reports focused on
the public authority's performance in allocating responsibilities
and establishing systems to ensure compliance with the HRA and
ECHR. These reports on individual public authorities are not published.
The Human Rights Diagnostic tool was brought
into full use for the audit cycle commencing in Spring 2002. Human
rights are now included in the core risks that auditors should
consider during the annual audit inspection process. 11 If an
auditor's initial assessment identifies concerns in the human
rights area, the diagnostic tool may be employed. It is also open
to organisations to invite District Audit to use the diagnostic
tool to assess the effectiveness of their arrangements for complying
with the Human Rights Act. No such request has been received to
date though some interest is now being shown in having action
If used, the diagnostic programme will focus
AwarenessHow far has the organisation
gone to raise awareness of human rights issues at all levels?
Corporate policies and proceduresWhat
arrangements have been made to ensure employment, disciplinary,
complaints, data protection, and best value policies are not vulnerable
External providersWhat arrangements have
been made to ensure that partners and suppliers are clued up on
Monitoring and reviewDo arrangements
ensure continued compliance with the Act?
The process starts with a review of an organisation's
corporate management arrangements and the identification of strengths
and weaknesses on the basis of which subsequent work is tailored.
Priorities for the annual audit cycle are set
at the beginning of each year. Inspections take place during February
to October with the results being released in annual audit letters
issued from October to December. Human rights are likely to remain
a core element of the inspection process. The purpose is to eliminate
unnecessary costs arising through legal challenges under the Human
Rights Act. As part of its governance function, District Audit
will continue to identify good practice and offer guidance on
policies and procedures to assist public bodies to implement the
Human Rights Act. Its remit does not extend to subject matterhuman
rights issues and cases.
Human rights are incorporated into recent regional
workshops on action planning for areas of risk which have been
conducted by District Audit for Primary Care Trusts and Mental
Health Trusts. It has also reminded the strategic health authorities
of the need to brief new PCTs on their responsibilities under
the human rights legislation (but has no evidence that this is
District Audit plans to publish another bulletin
in 2003when it hopes to draw in other agencies such as
the LGA and LCD (a possibility it has discussed with the latter).
This bulletin will examine further how public bodies are addressing
the HRA and highlight examples of best practice. It will be based
on the outcomes of a more thorough examination and follow up of
the action plans agreed with some 40-50 public authorities with
some overlap with the original sample of 88 public authorities.
The analysis is expected to look at individual areas of service
delivery. It may also encompass diversity issues.
District Audit was brought back under the Audit
Commission in January 2003. In future, it may cease to be responsible
for the auditing of health organisations when this task is one
that may be taken up by an expanded Commission on Health Improvement
and Assessment (around 2004-05).
District Audit's remit is restricted to England
and Wales. The Accounts Commission in Scotland has not developed
a similar focus on human rights.
6.7 Three surveys
Between March and May 2000, the Institute for
Public Policy Research (IPPR) conducted a telephone survey of
the preparations being made by public authorities for the coming
into force of the HRA. Of the 60 public authorities who responded,
the IPPR categorised 15 as being in the process of making adequate
preparations; 21 as having recognised the need to take steps but
not yet being at the stage of doing so; and 24 as having no information
on the HRA or understanding that it would apply to their work.
The IPPR observed that:
"Our findings suggest that the filtering
of information down the system in local authorities is not working
quickly enough and that central government needs to provide sector
specific guidance as soon as possible".13
Between May and September 2000, the LGA surveyed
the state of preparations in local authorities for the coming
into force of the HRA. Based on a response rate of just over half
the local authorities in England and Wales, the LGA found that:
10 per cent of local authorities
had a general policy on human rights, 30 per cent were formulating
one and 28 per cent planned to develop such a policy;
44 per cent of local authorities
had developed a strategy or plan to implement the HRA while a
further 28 per cent were in the process of developing such a plan;
56 per cent of local authorities
were auditing policies and procedures for compliance with the
HRA and 39 per cent had plans to do so;
28 per cent had changed policies
or procedures as a result of an audit exercise;
70 per cent had developed or intended
to develop a system for ensuring that human rights implications
were considered in decision making;
63 per cent of local authorities
had experienced difficulties in preparing for the HRA (mainly
lack of manpower and uncertainty over the effect of the Act);
98 per cent of local authorities
were providing specialist training for some officers falling to
6 per cent offering such training for all officers;
93 per cent were raising awareness
about the Act amongst officers;
92 per cent intended to offer training
to council members;
87 per cent saw a need for more advice
on good practice and 86 per cent for information on legal developments.
In 2001, District Audit surveyed how some 88
local government and health organisations were implementing the
Human Rights Act. The findings published in May 2002 revealed
69 per cent of the local authorities
had gone to considerable lengths to raise awareness of the implications
of the HRA for their work;
41 per cent had taken no action to
assess policies and practices for compliance with the Act;
half of the local authorities had
no clear corporate approach to responding to the HRA;
62 per cent had put in place a mechanism
for keeping abreast of developments concerning human rights;
76 per cent of local authorities
and health bodies had made no arrangements for ensuring that hybrid
bodies and contractors had taken steps to comply with the HRA.
The statistical surveys conducted by the LGA
and District Audit offer strong evidence to support the view that
most local authorities identified and addressed the need to prepare
for the coming into force of the Human Rights Act. Five examples
are given below of what this might actually mean in individual
6.8 A Northern Metropolitan Borough Council
This is a large metropolitan borough council
(no single party control) with a cabinet and sizeable corporate
structure. The main priority of the council is the development
and implementation of its community cohesion programme.
The council did not act early for the introduction
of the HRA as its lawyers were confident that the impact on its
work was likely to be small because their decision-making processes
complied with the Convention. A report was put to the council's
executive committee in October 2000 when members determined that
it would be a "human rights" council. Human rights considerations
are included in the principles of decision making annexed to the
council's constitution (working off a template also used in other
local authorities). A "human rights" implications box
is included in the template for council papers seeking decisions.
No audit of policies and procedures was conducted prior to the
HRA coming into force but the council did take the unusual step
of having its scrutiny committee review the impact of the HRA
on the work of the council after one year.
Human rights come under the corporate legal
services team of the council. However, steps have been taken to
mainstream the subject to line management throughout the council
and lawyers serving particular service areas are expected to handle
human rights matters in these areas. The council conducted its
biggest training programme in 10 years to provide a general introduction
to the HRA for some 300 line managers. Specialist seminars were
held for some service areas and a separate seminar for council
members. Council lawyers experienced no particular problems in
obtaining materials on the HRA. In their preparations they used
guidance provided by the Home Office/LCD and the LGA. Some of
the human rights training has been provided by a commercial law
firm. Information on human rights cases is obtained through subscription
Few human rights challenges have been made against
the work of the council. Human rights arguments have arisen in
the areas of child care, licensing, traveller policies and housing
but not in a manner to cause concern or alarm within the council.
Complaints have been normally settled before getting to court.
The council has not adopted any specific rights
based approaches in its work but there is some sense of human
rights permeating its community cohesion programme.
Human rights are now a low priority issue for
the council. It does not consider that it has any "unmet"
needs with regard to human rights and the HRA. There is some support
for a human rights commission to develop the human rights agenda
provided that the main focus remains on the legal implications.
6.9 A Southern County Council
This is a large county council (under single
party control) with a cabinet and a sizeable corporate structure.
The cabinet agreed a human rights policy in
2000. Human rights considerations are covered in some detail in
the council's constitution. A "human rights" implications
box is included in the template for council papers seeking decisions.
Council policies and practices were audited for compliance with
the Convention. No major concerns were identified but the council
was prompted to include a human rights indemnity clause in its
contracts (particularly for residential and day care) to protect
it from claims.
Human rights come under the corporate legal
services team. Human rights champions were also identified in
each service area but, at the end of 2002, only those in planning,
social services and trading standards were still active. Human
rights issues arising in other service areas tend to gravitate
back to the corporate legal services team.
Separate human rights training programmes have
been held for lawyers and service departments (line managers and
front line staff). Human rights guidance was put on the council's
intranet. Well-attended seminars were held for council members
at the end of 2000 and, again, after the 2001 elections. A written
guide on the HRA for council members was produced.
Council members remain "human rights"
conscious and ask, on occasion, for additional information on
the human rights implications of matters presented for decision.
However, human rights issues arise infrequently in connection
with the work of the councilwaste plans, access to internet
services in council libraries and traveller policies marking the
only significant occasions. The latter also being the only area
where council members have had to be advised that the policies
being devised by the council risked being considered to be incompatible
with the Convention.
The council has not adopted any form of rights
based approach to its work. It does not promote a "human
rights culture". It does not consider that it has any "unmet"
needs (for guidance, advice or support) with regard to human rights
and the HRA. It had received a positive report from District Audit
for its efforts to implement the HRA.
There was a belief that a human rights commission
would have been beneficial at the time that the HRA was introduced
but there was less support for one now. It was commented that
such a commission could only make an impact with powers to "direct"
local authorities to act.
6.10 A Southern District Council
This is a medium sized district council (under
single party control) with a cabinet, no corporate structure but
some policy officers.
The council has a constitution with the "standard"
human rights clause on proportionality annexed as part of the
principles of decision making. A "human rights" implications
box is included in the template for council papers seeking decisions.
This in reinforced by a "human rights" checklist for
decision- making used primarily for planning issues. Particular
emphasis is placed on ensuring the "proportionality"
of planning enforcement decisions. The council has published guidance
on how it applies the HRA in planning decisions.
The council attempted an audit of policies and
procedures with variable levels of participation and results in
different service areas.
Human rights are vested with the legal department.
It has ensured that human rights are built into council contracts.
In 2000, the council ran awareness raising seminars
for all line managers supplemented by targeted sessions for housing,
planning and environmental services. Human rights briefings were
held for Council members and area committees. There has been no
reinforcement of this training.
The council used human rights guidance provided
by the Home Office/LCD, the LGA and commercial law firms. It has
recently distributed the revised LCD human rights study guide
to all departments. The legal department uses "lawtel"
for information on human rights cases. Human rights issues have
had little impact, to date, on the work of the council. The council
successfully defended a challenge on the use of introductory tenancies
(not Bracknell Forest). Human rights had also arisen in
a planning case settled out of court.
The council has not adopted any form culture
of respect for human rights in its work. It does not promote a
"human right culture".
There was a belief that a human rights commission
would have been beneficial at the time the HRA was introduced
but that it would be of less use now.
6.11 A Midlands District Council
This is a small district council (under single
party control) with a cabinet but no corporate structure or dedicated
policy officers. Priorities for the council were maintaining a
low council tax and dealing with planning "overspill"
from nearby conurbations.
The council has a "standard" constitution
and human rights clause. A report had been made to cabinet when
the HRA came into effect. The council had completed an audit of
its policies and functions for compliance with the Convention.
No particular issues had been identified. It uses a decision-making
template but this does not include a section for "human rights"
implications. Questions of proportionality are, however, always
addressed in planning decisions.
Free awareness raising seminars had been held
for council staff and members by a commercial law firm. The council
used guidance provided by the Home Office/LCD and the LGA. It
does not monitor current human rights cases and developments.
The council had not been faced with any challenges
under the HRA. However, such considerations percolated in the
background to planning decisions and enforcement actions especially
when travellers opted to build on land they owned but without
The council has not adopted any form of rights
based approach for its work. It does not promote a "human
There was no support for a human rights commission.
Local government was already over regulated and inspected. There
was no need to address human rights as a matter of more than legal
6.12 A Welsh District Council
This is a small district council (under single
party control) with no cabinet, corporate structure or dedicated
The council does not have a formal constitution
and has not established a human rights policy. It had not undertaken
an audit of policies and practices for compliance with the Convention
but rather adopts an incremental approach addressing human rights
implications as policies come up for review. The council does
not use a decision-making template for council papers as it feels
that this would serve little purpose other than being a box ticking
Human rights issues are vested with a single
lawyer. At the outset, he had not expected the HRA to have an
impact on the work of the council and no human rights issues have
arisen since the Act came into force.
Some informal training has been held for council
staff. No training for council members has been provided and they
show no interest in human rights in relation to council business.
Human rights and the HRA hold no significance for this council.
A human rights commission is held to have no purpose in relation
to the council.
6.13 Current human rights practice in local authorities
The size of a local authority has some bearing
on the extent of its preparations for the HRA. Larger local authorities
with corporate levels or structures are much more likely to have
adopted systematic approaches to the implementation of the HRA.
In some cases, detailed reports were prepared prior to the Act
coming into force for cabinet or executive committees on the potential
implications of the HRA. In these larger authorities, human rights
policies may be established, human rights given a place in the
council's constitution and systems put in place for human rights
considerations to be reflected in the decision-making processes
of the council. Checklists of varying degrees of sophistication
are used by some of these authorities to ensure that human rights
considerations are reflected in decision-making. In smaller local
authorities, it is less likely that systematic approaches will
have been adopted for the implementation of the HRA. Such authorities
are not as "policy" orientated as their larger cousins.
They do not have the "luxury" of the corporate structures
or human resources for such work. This said, some of the best
practice on human rights (the use of decision-making checklists
etc) was found in smaller councils where an individual official
had the interest and influence to establish human rights systems.
Individual initiative is less likely to be a factor in larger
The involvement of council members in the preparation
and implementation process for the HRA is patchy. Council members
in one northern county council established a human rights working
group which held sessions with external groups such as the police
and voluntary agencies to examine the implications of the HRA
for their work. But this is unusual. The interest and involvement
of council members in human rights matters in the other local
authorities examined as part of this report varied widely. The
sample was too small to discern any particular pattern or reason
for this save for a correlation between awareness training being
held for members and members taking an interest in human rights.
Whether the interest prompted the training or the training prompted
the interest is unclear.
Overall, the evidence for human rights remaining
an active part of the work of local authorities is thin. In most
local authorities, human rights now only play a part in the work
of the legal teams. In a handful, they also have a home in risk
management or the equalities team. It is very rare to now find
human rights mainstreamed across all the service areas of a local
authority. Planning is the area most likely to exercise a human
rights dimension (the use of proportionality in planning and enforcement
decisions). In a handful of local authorities, guidance continues
to be produced on the implications of the HRA for decision-making
in specific areas of activity. Simple online searches of council
decisions also reveal arguments addressing Article 8 and Article
1 Protocol 1 issues in planning decisions and compulsory purchase
orders, and, a personal favourite, the ECHR concept of proportionality
being applied to the siting of a roundabout.
However, the evidence also strongly argues that
human rights systems where established in local government are
now falling into disuse. This stems from the lack of human rights
cases having a direct impact on the work of local authorities
and the absence of any real reinforcement of the "human rights
message" from any of the sources they would look to for guidance
on the hot topics of the day.
Three comments were made by interviewees in
nearly all the local authorities examined as part of this report:
the local authority took the necessary
steps to prepare for the Act;
it had since had few human rights
challenges to deal with; and
human rights are now a low priority
area for the council.
As one legal officer working in a city council
in the south of England summed up "the human rights files
are dusty and about to be archived". It must be concluded
that the Human Rights Act presently has little impact on the day
to day work of local authorities.
6.14 A Human Rights Commission and local government
Local authorities would have been more likely
to welcome the presence of a human rights commission at a time
when it could have helped in the preparation process. As of now,
they see less need for such a body and do not consider that they
have "unmet" needs in fulfilling their obligations under
the HRA. Local authorities and their representative bodies are
well attuned to the political priorities of government. This leads
them to view human rights as only a compliance issue. And compliance
with the HRA is not a priority issue because it is not causing
them problems in their work (they have had few cases or issues
to wrestle with since the Act came into force).
There is little sense of a human rights culture
being promoted in the services provided by local authorities.
An exception was a northern council where such a culture was a
part of education policies. The nearest that most local authorities
are likely to come in recognising the need to promote the human
rights interests of any part of the community is in relation to
traveller policies. Even then, the "culture" is primarily
one of justifying the proportionate nature of planning and enforcement
decisions in interfering with the property and family rights of
A key task to be addressed by a human rights
commission, therefore, would be to take on the task of convincing
busy local authorities that human rights are important and deserve
to be embraced, as more than a compliance issue, in every area
of their activities. To do this, it would have to work through
the "umbrella" organisationsthe representative
and regulatory bodies already working with local governmentwhich
would involve first rekindling the enthusiasm and interest of
these organisations for human rights matters.
A human rights commission would not need to
fill any particular information gaps on human rights matters for
local authorities. This information is already available from
a wide variety of sources. However, it could act as a repository
for "good practice" or convince other bodies to establish
such a resource. Local authorities appear to rarely share best
practice on human rights matters.
A human rights commission could have a part
to play in translating human rights obligations into the administrative
frameworks governing local government. Human rights do not play
a part in comprehensive performance assessmentthe main
governance tool and focus of local government. Race equality does
form part of this process. Race equality indicators from best
value (and earlier initiatives) have been picked up for employment
and service delivery purposes in the new comprehensive performance
assessment framework. There are no performance indicators for
human rights. When the HRA was introduced, there was the prospect
that a culture of respect for human rights would become part of
best value but this had not been done in any of the local authorities
examined for this report. Interviewees in the LGA attributed this
to the "wait and see" approach adopted by most local
authorities. Since human rights did not "catch fire"
as an issue or in the courtroom they did not earn a place in best
value. Including human rights performance indicators in comprehensive
performance assessment would have a real impact in re-establishing
human rights as a priority of local government. This could be
done without a human rights commission but there is an "added
value" to be gained if this step were to be reinforced by
a commission supervising a public sector "duty to promote"
human rights as is now done by the CRE for racial equality (see
further section 11.2 below).
A human rights commission would not have to
fill a regulatory role in relation to local government. Indeed,
the work undertaken by District Audit in relation to human rights
has the potential to have a major impact on the manner in which
public authorities respond to the HRA and ECHR. It makes human
rights a part of the regulatory framework and something to be
taken seriously by all public authorities. The focus is inevitably
on fulfilling the compliance aspects of the new legislation and
to ward off the prospect of the unnecessary costs of fighting
or losing challenges in the courts. District Audit does not profess
to have expertise in human rights and while it can advise on management
systems etc, it cannot offer advice on human rights issues per
se. This is the one obvious limitation of its work and the point
at which a partner organisation such as a human rights commission
might make a useful contribution. There are, however, strict limits
on the extent to which District Audit can share information relating
to individual public authorities. This is something that would
have to be addressed through a protocol or memorandum of understanding
between District Audit and any future human rights commission.