Joint Committee on Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Department of Environment, Transport and Regions

  The Committee has sought information and analysis on a number of issues surrounding the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998. This memorandum represents the Department of Environment, Transport and Regions' (DETR) response.

"What efforts has DETR made so far to implement the Act, and in particular, to build a `human rights culture'?"

  Following the making of the Human Rights Act 1998, DETR has, along with other Government departments, carried out a number of reviews on its primary legislation. This exercise was monitored by the Human Rights Task Force set up under the auspices of the Home Office. In addition, we have also looked at current secondary legislation and procedures.

  In line with the guidance received, DETR evaluated its primary legislation to determine, where possible, whether it was compatible with the Convention Rights. A number of changes were made as a result. These included amending section 189 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 (by section 267 of the Transport Act 2000) to provide for appeals against decisions by Transport for London on London service permits to go to a panel appointed by the Lord Chancellor. A second was to provide for an amended procedure to enable appeals by approved driving instructors against removal from, or refusal of entry to the ADI (Approved Driving Instructor) Register. That amendment was made by section 259 of the Transport Act 2000 and provides for the transfer of responsibility for appeals to the Transport Tribunal. DETR also took further powers to provide the means for appeal against the conduct of the full range of tests and assessments that instructors can take to magistrates' courts (Sheriffs courts in Scotland).

  DETR continues to monitor and review its current legislation to check for compatibility with the Convention particularly in the light of UK and Strasbourg Court judgements. It also monitors current court cases that do not directly involve DETR in order to check for any issues that may affect DETR's field of responsibility. DETR has also undertaken a review of secondary legislation and procedures. A number of changes are under consideration.

  DETR also undertook a comprehensive training programme within the department which involved a team from one of its central divisions who has responsibility to co-ordinate HRA issues within DETR and DETR's Legal Division. Over 35 training sessions were held and were targeted at each individual Directorate within DETR with a slant given on their particular areas of activities. These sessions were also held with each of DETR's Agencies and two addressed to DETR's NDPBs. DETR also assisted in training issues for Local Authorities undertaken by the Local Government Association. A presentation on local government issues was also given to the Human Rights Task Force.

  In addition to these training sessions, a number of articles were produced for DETR's in-house bulletin which looked at relevant Convention Articles and overall at the Human Rights Act. A web page on the DETR's internal Infonet has also been developed which includes guidance on the relevant Articles and the Act, together with a list of most asked questions and answers. It is planned to re-issue the Bulletin articles in the near future.

  DETR has established specialist divisions (both Legal and administrative) that co-ordinate DETR's interests in the Human Rights Act and who have set up a network of contacts within the Legal Directorate and with administrators to provide further guidance and assistance where necessary. Current Bill teams have also had the opportunity of a presentation on the Human Rights Act and its implications for the development of the policy of their Bills.

"How has the Act affected DETR's approach to human rights issues and what have been the consequences both for policy-information and for the delivery of services?"

  DETR has always had a policy of equal and fair treatment which it has applied to the development of policies and legislation and been aware of the UK's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The introduction of the Human Rights Act has reinforced that policy. Clearly, the consequences of decisions taken on interpreting the Act could have implications for a number of procedures adopted by DETR and we will meet those challenges as they arise. There are a number of Government initiatives that currently have an impact on the development of policy and customer service and these are being taken forward with the full implications of the Human Rights Act in mind.

  As set out above, DETR has been imbedding the Human Rights Act into everyday activities in DETR and will continue to do so. DETR has adopted the guidance that was circulated to Departments by the Home Office on section 19 statements. In addition, we have promoted the need to take account of this requirement at the early stages of policy development and therefore ensure that the policy development is compatible with the Convention Rights.

"In addition, what have been the implications for DETR of any court judgements on human rights matters since the Act came into force on 2 October?"

  The Committee will be aware that, in December 2000, the Divisional Court found that certain planning processes involved in four test cases was not compatible with Article 6(1) of the Convention—right to a fair hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal. These processes included the Secretary of State's ability to call-in and determine applications for planning permission and to determine appeals. The Secretary of State appealed directly to the House of Lords against the Court's decision. The case was heard from 26 February and judgement is awaited.

  In the meantime, as regards statutory planning procedures, the Secretary of State is continuing to proceed on the basis of existing legislation and in accordance with his usual practice. This is because, following sections 4(6) and 6(2) of the Human Rights Act, the Divisional Court did not find that the Secretary of State had acted unlawfully (as he could not have acted in any other way under the legislation).

  DETR is also looking into the implications of a recent Strasbourg judgement on concessionary fares. That may require fresh primary legislation in due course.

  There has also been two further important cases of interest to DETR. These included the Scottish case of Procurator Fiscal Dunfermline and Her Majesty's Advocate General for Scotland v Brown involving section 172 of the Road Traffic Act 1998 and on Introductory Tenants (R v Bracknell DC ex p. Johns). In both cases the Courts upheld the Government's view. However, both of these are sensitive issues and likely to be tested further. DETR will continue to monitor these cases and respond accordingly.

"And, crucially, what impact has the Act had on everyday life in DETR's fields of responsibility?"

  The Act has raised a general awareness of the need to pay particular attention to operating a fair and equal system. As stated above, DETR has a policy of fair and equal treatment but the Act has reinforced this policy.

  We are also looking at the balance to be struck between giving independence to Tribunal members and the need to refresh the membership to meet the Government's targets for diversity and other objectives.

"Finally, how has DETR addressed (where it has arisen) the duty under section 19 of the Act to make statements of compatibility or non-compatibility with the Convention in relation to Government Bills; and what problems has this process created?"

  DETR has adopted the guidance that was circulated to Departments by the Home Office on section 19 statements. In addition, we have promoted the need to take account of this requirement at the early stages of policy development and therefore ensure that the policy development is compatible with the Convention Rights.

  The Committee will be aware that as a consequence of amendments made in the House of Lords to the Local Government Bill last year that DETR had to give a s19 (b) certificate when the Bill was introduced into the Commons. This arose from an amendment that reinstated s28 of the Local Government Act 1988 and thus made it impossible for the Bill as a whole to receive a positive statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act. The recent Government commitment to consider compatibility statements made by promoters of Private Bills will need to be monitored for its effectiveness and implications.

John Prescott

March 2001

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