Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Lord Chancellor's Department



  1.  Following the General Election responsibility for domestic human rights policy, including work on the Human Rights Act, passed from the Home Secretary to the Lord Chancellor. Michael Wills MP has responsibility, under the Lord Chancellor, for this subject. Staff and other resources committed by the Home Office to these functions (mainly the Home Office Human Rights Unit) are now under the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD), as is the associated legal co-ordination function (previously with the Cabinet Office).

  2.  The work of the Home Office Human Rights Unit until the transfer is described in the Memorandum which the then Home Secretary provided to the Committee in March 2001.


  3.  The main aims and priorities for the implementation of the Human Rights Act are similar to those pursued by the Home Office. They are to:

    —  ensure that public authorities, within and outside Whitehall, have the information and guidance they need, and to

    —  help promote and develop a culture of rights and responsibilities.

  4.  The Human Rights Division also assists Ministers in relation to the UK's domestic position under various international human rights instruments. This topic is the subject of a separate request for a Memorandum (Paul Evans' letter of 7 November to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, now transferred to the Lord Chancellor's Department). This will be dealt with shortly.

  5.  An overview of the services currently supplied by the Human Rights Division is at Annex A.

  6.  Achievement of the Government's priorities for its policy on human rights is, of course, not a matter just for the Human Rights Division, or for the LCD alone: the Government has repeatedly made it clear that all Departments must play their part in "mainstreaming" human rights and delivering appropriate awareness on the ground and in the services they deliver. This general policy was set out in the Home Office Memorandum referred to in paragraph 2 above and is being carried forward, for example, in the last circular letter to Permanent Secretaries about the Human Rights Act (copy at annex B). It is important to bear in mind that whilst LCD seeks to prompt and, where appropriate, co-ordinate human rights activity, it does not, and could not, direct other departments regarding the policies for which their Ministers are responsible.


  7.  Considerable effort is devoted to ensuring satisfactory co-ordination of human rights interests across Government. At the Ministerial level, a special Cabinet Committee (CRP(EC)) remains in place to underpin cross-departmental co-ordination of human rights issues and the implementation of the Human Rights Act. Its membership and terms of reference are at annex C.

  8.  The arrangements for co-ordinating legal work on human rights have been revised following the changes in the machinery of government. A team of three lawyers in the LCD works on this, in partnership with the Human Rights Division. The Human Rights Division and the team of lawyers have networks of contact points in each Department which they use to collect, co-ordinate and disseminate information as necessary.

  9.  The purposes of co-ordination are to:

    —  help Departments resolve Convention issues, either in litigation or elsewhere

    —  to ensure that issues of wide importance are considered collectively

    —  ensure a consistent approach across Government, and to

    —  share information so that lawyers across Government are aware of developments that might affect their work.

  10.  Lawyers in the Treasury Solicitors' department deal with litigation, particularly where the Treasury Solicitor is acting. And FCO legal advisers remain the UK's agents for Strasbourg litigation and are departments' principal consultants on Strasbourg case law.

  11.  We have asked all Departments to be alert to the interests of other departments in dealing with human rights issues. They are to inform LCD about "hot cases", significant changes to procedure and legislation, and pending legislation. This information is compiled for circulation to Ministers and officials. Though Departments are encouraged to liaise in any event, the internal guidance makes it clear that LCD should always be contacted:

    —  when proposed legislation or litigation on existing legislation raises an important, unusual or cross-departmental human rights point, or a point on the construction of the Human Rights Act itself

    —  when it is proposed to depart from agreed legal positions on the Human Rights Act as advised in special guidance circulated by LCD

    —  when assistance is required in agreeing a position that requires interdepartmental agreement

    —  in advance of a significant court judgement on a human rights issue

    —  in developing options for dealing with a declaration of incompatibility

    —  where it is proposed to consult the Law Officers

    —  any notification made under section 5 of the Human Rights Act (where the notification is made to someone other than the Treasury Solicitor).

  12.  Where departments have generated or commissioned legal advice on a human rights issue that might usefully be shared with colleagues, the presumption is that the advice should be shared. LCD assists by circulating either the advice or a summary.

  13.  The information circulated by LCD includes:

    —  a periodic index of Law Officers' and FCO advice on human rights. The latter is sent to devolved administrations as well as to Whitehall departments.

    —  judgements and other material of general interest from Strasbourg (again this goes to devolved administrations and to Whitehall departments)

    —  miscellaneous points of guidance and information, counsel's opinions and internal legal advice, consideration of human rights issues outside government, for example in the Joint Committee on Human Rights

    —  notifications of possible declarations under section 5 of the Human Rights Act. These are served on the person named in the list published under section 17 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 (normally, but not always, the Treasury Solicitor). Depending on the subject-matter, a lead department will be identified, and the papers will be circulated to that and other interested departments.

  14.  Meetings are held regularly and ad hoc. Regular meetings with Treasury Solicitors focus on civil rather than criminal matters, but include a round-up of recent criminal issues. There is a separate criminal issues group and "fast track" group chaired by the Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers. The second meets more fortnightly to identify cases which might be "fast tracked". The meetings cover litigation and policy items that need to be discussed collectively (leaving other business, and the exchange of information, to be done on paper).


  15.  Consistent with the "mainstreaming" approach it remains for each Department and public authority to assess its own training needs and secure the appropriate training at all levels, including specialist legal training and "awareness raising". However the LCD provides training materials and speakers, on invitation, at a range of Departmental events, seminars and conferences, as well as organising and providing a continuing series of regional "roadshows" about the Human Rights Act and its implications. The roadshows offer a review of key cases; a talk on the meaning and practical implications of the human rights culture; and practical exercises. No charge is made for any such training or materials.

  16.  The Civil Service College provides a range of dedicated training on the Act for administrators and lawyers, as well as integrating human rights issues into its main training programme. In particular it provides a two-day course on the Human Rights Act which it has run 15 times since May 1999. LCD has contributed to the design and content of courses, and provides speakers for them. In addition, the College has provided tailored in-house training for a range of Departments and public authorities including Cabinet Office, Ministry of Defence, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, Financial Services Agency, Department of Health, Department for Education and Skills, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Intervention Board, War Pensions Agency, the Radiocommunications Agency and the Isle of Man Government.


  17.  The LCD has a small team of seven people devoted exclusively to human rights, including one person working full-time on the Helpdesk. This team is the Human Rights Division. They are supported by a legal team which is equivalent to at least two full-time legal advisers. The Division has currently two additional staff, acting as researchers, who are students employed on a temporary basis. One of these is a French post-graduate specialist in international law who has developed expertise in the work of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

  18.  The delegated budget for the Division in this financial year is around £370,000 excluding publicity. Although it is not possible at this stage to say if additional resources will be made available for the next financial year, no reduction is planned. In addition to the £370,000, about £30,000 has been spent this year on printing, storage and distribution of guidance material. A further £100,000 has been given to assist culture building projects, namely distribution of a human rights edition of the Young Citizenship Passport (with the Citizenship Foundation); and to help develop an important new project in schools and youth organisations across the UK to promote a culture based on the Human Rights Act (a summary of the pilot project for this is at annex D).

  19.  As Human Rights is mainstreamed throughout Government Departments, human rights issues are increasingly integral to daily work. Accordingly, it is difficult to separate out work and resources as devoted specifically to "Human Rights". It is not possible, for example, to identify how much of the budget on Legal Aid is devoted specifically to human rights cases, since cases raise human rights along with a broad range of other issues. Departments have reported that though training resources and legal advice are expended on human rights it is not possible to identify them separately.


  20.  Please see paragraph 18 above and the summary overview at annex A. Over the last six months over 20,000 copies of guidance have been issued, 3,000 telephone enquiries have been answered, and there have been around 132,000 `hits' on the website. The Division and the associated LCD legal team remain a focal point for knowledge and good practice on human rights; is making significant contributions to a range of training events, not least through its own `roadshow' events outside London. As mentioned in paragraph 18, the Division is also sponsoring a major culture-building, UK-wide youth project work on the Human Rights Act (see annex D).

  21.  A significant proportion of LCD's effort is taken up liaising with other Government Departments about specific proposals or cases involving the Human Rights Act. Most of these arise as a result of the guidance on referrals mentioned in paragraph 11 above, though we may become involved of our own initiative (perhaps following media or other reports). Such work often entails Ministerial attention.


  22.  At least three more regional `roadshow' events about the Human Rights Act will take place before Easter and the Division will continue to supply speakers to other Departments training and awareness events. These will increasingly focus on the meaning, social utility and practical implications of the culture at which the Act is aimed. We also plan to establish regular but informal Ministerial meetings with the major Non-Governmental Organisations operating in the human rights area and to involve them more in our training events. The Unit is currently revising the guidance for Whitehall Departments about the Act to take account of experience since the Act's introduction and this should be available by the end of February[1]. The popular Study Guide to the Act is also being completely updated to include more useful information for members of the public. This work is being done in close co-operation with the Bar Council and should be completed by Easter. Work will also continue on the youth awards scheme referred in paragraph 18 above.

  23.  The Human Rights Division's work on the UK's reporting obligation under international human rights treaties and associated departmental effort is the subject of a separate memorandum.

December 2001

1   This will include an important change to the guidance about Ministerial statements under section 19 of the Human Rights Act. Back

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