3. Memorandum from the Equal
The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) is
grateful for the opportunity to submit written evidence for consideration
by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Sex Equality is a fundamental human right. Women
and men in Britain are entitled to equal treatment regardless
of their gender and to live in a society free from discrimination,
where that right to equal treatment is respected. The EOC believes
that women and men in Britain should also enjoy the protection
of the broad range of human rights set out in the European Convention
on Human Rights, and in other international human rights instruments
to which the UK is a signatory. The promotion and protection of
these basic human rights is essential for the healthy development
of individuals and society.
The EOC welcomed the enactment of the Human
Rights Act 1998, which by incorporating the European Convention
on Human Rights creates important, positive rights and, to a lesser
extent, creates improved rights against discrimination. In addition,
the EOC has consistently supported the establishment of a Human
Rights Commission to promote and enforce these rights.
The EOC's response to this Consultation is determined
by several key principles:
The principles endorsed by the UN
General Assembly in 1993, covering the mandate and independence
of national human rights bodies (the Paris Principles).
There should be a consistent legal
framework across equality and human rights issues in terms of
the nature and scope of rights and the institutions to support
Full account should be taken of devolved
governmental structures while ensuring minimum standards across
As requested by the Joint committee, this submission
has been prepared using the questions set out in the consultation
paper as a structure.
1. WHY A
1.1 There are a number of public bodies
which have responsibility for promoting and enforcing human rights
standards, for example, the Equality Commissions, Ombudsmen, the
Police Complaints Authority in England and Wales, the Data Protection
Commission etc. In Northern Ireland alone, there is a free-standing
Human Rights Commission. In addition, there are voluntary organisations
which make an important contribution to promoting human rights.
However, each of these bodies and organisations is restricted
either by its statutory terms of reference to a single issue or
by its lack of statutory underpinning.
1.2 When the Human Rights Act 1998 was enacted,
it was not accompanied by an independent statutory body with a
clear remit to exercise functions in connection with the protection
of human rights. The nearest such body is the Joint Committee
on Human Rights itself, whose remit includes the responsibility
to consider and report to each House of Parliament on matters
relating to human rights.
1.3 Whilst the Joint Committee will undoubtedly
make an important contribution by informing Parliament at a general
level on human rights developments, the EOC believes that the
Joint Committee itself will not be able to carry out the vital
ongoing tasks necessary to protect and promote human rights in
1.4 The EOC considers that there is a clear
need to create a purpose-designed organisation with responsibility,
powers and resources to enable it to fulfil vital tasks to foster
a human rights culture in the UK, such as raising awareness in
human rights through promotion and education, advising and assisting
people who claim to be victims of violations of their Convention
rights, providing guidance to public authorities to ensure they
comply with human rights principles in their activities, developing
expertise in human rights, and bringing legal proceedings on human
rights issues in the public interest.
1.5 Whilst existing organisations, statutory
and non-statutory, make an important contribution to these tasks,
they do so inevitably in an ad-hoc and limited way, whereas
what is required is a comprehensive framework and strategy which
the EOC believes can only be addressed through the establishment
of a new organisation.
1.6 In accordance with the Paris Principles
we believe that a Human Rights Commission should have the following
(i) To keep under review the adequacy and
effectiveness in the UK of existing law and practice relating
to the protection of human rights.
(ii) To advise Parliament of legislative
and other measures which would need to be taken to protect human
(iii) To examine proposed legislation and
to advise Parliament whether a Bill is compatible with human rights
(iv) To make submissions to the appropriate
Government Department in relation to the reports that the UK Government
is required to submit to international bodies and committees pursuant
to human rights treaty obligations.
(v) To consult with national or international
bodies or agencies having knowledge or expertise in human rights.
(vi) To facilitate and conduct investigations
or inquiries on its own initiative or at the request of others
into situations where there may have been a violation of human
rights, and to have the power to summon witnesses and obtain any
information or documents necessary for assessing these situations.
(vii) To conduct alternative methods of dispute
resolution where appropriate.
Promotion, Education and Research
(viii) To promote understanding and awareness
of the importance of human rights throughout the UK, and to make
provision for appropriate research and educational activities
to fulfil this duty.
(ix) To provide guidance to public authorities
on complying with human rights standards.
(x) To publish its advice and the outcome
of its research and investigations.
(xi) To consider complaints from individuals
or groups of people where it is alleged that there has been a
breach of human rights.
(xii) To give assistance to individuals or
groups of people who apply to it for help in relation to proceedings
involving law or practice concerning the protection of their human
(xiii) To bring proceedings involving law
or practice concerning the protection of human rights.
(xiv) To intervene in legal proceedings to
bring relevant principles of international law to the attention
of the court.
2.1 We believe there is a need for the Joint
Committee to strengthen the scrutiny of legislation and to provide
an overview at Parliamentary level of the United Kingdom's protection
and promotion of human rights. It would be for the Human Rights
Commission and the Joint Committee to determine for themselves
the precise nature of their relationship, but we believe their
co-existence and collaboration would create a powerful partnership.
3.1 We do not consider that it would be
appropriate to arrange the functions of a Commission in any order
of priority. This is not an arrangement, for example, which obtains
in respect of the Equality Commissions. We believe it is for the
organisation itself to determine its priorities from time to time
according to its overall strategy. In arriving at its strategy,
the Human Rights Commission would no doubt wish to inform itself
of the views of interested parties, and also pay particular regard
to views and guidance which the Joint Committee might offer.
4.1 The UK Government is responsible, under
international law, for ensuring that international human rights
standards are met throughout the UK. The Government must therefore
ensure a degree of uniformity in the protection of human rights
in all parts of the UK. Minimum standards must be met and the
Government must report to international bodies on the way in which
it has fulfilled its obligations for the country as a whole.
4.2 We consider that a Human Rights Commission
should be established with a jurisdiction extending to all parts
of the UK. However, we recognise that the Northern Ireland Act
1998 makes provision for a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission,
and we acknowledge the legitimate desire for and claim to separate
human rights bodies in England, Scotland and Wales. We consider
that a Human Rights Commission needs a structure which reflects
the new devolved governmental structures while taking into account
the need to ensure minimum standards across the whole of the UK.
It should ensure that human rights developments are effectively
co-ordinated; take responsibility for initiatives which needed
to be organised at the national level; and be primarily responsible
for representing the UK in international fora.
6.1 Equality and anti-discrimination are
key components of all human rights instruments and it will be
particularly important for the Human Rights Commission to establish
strong working relationships with the equality bodies.
We believe the overriding consideration should
be comprehensive coverage of human rights issues. The aim should
be sensible co-existence with a view to avoiding duplication.
Where some overlap is unavoidable, to ensure that no issues are
overlooked, we believe sensible protocols worked out between the
Human Rights Commission and the other organisations would be achievable.
Such protocols already exist between the existing Equality Commissions.
Further, the Chairs and Chief Executives of
the three Equality Commissions meet regularly, and they come together
with the Northern Ireland Equality and Human Rights Commissions
and with the Equality Authority in Ireland on a quarterly basis.
An agreement has recently been reached that a Commissioner from
each of the Equality Commissions attends each meeting of the Commissions.
Officials of the Equality Commissions exploit opportunities for
joint and collaborative working on issues of mutual interest.
In this way, a good working relationship has been fostered without
the need for formal regulation.
6.2 It is not envisaged that a Human Rights
Commission would take over the roles of any of the existing bodies
but would be expected to work in close co-operation with them
for the promotion and protection of human rights.
In situations where it was felt that there had
been a violation of human rights in addition to discrimination
under any of the Equality statutes, it would be expected that
the Human Rights Commission would work jointly on the case with
the relevant Equality Commission, as is currently the case between
the Equality Commissions.
In cases where there is discrimination which
contravenes an international human rights instrument but does
not contravene any of the Equality statutes, it is expected that
the Human Rights Commission would be able to deal with the case,
but this would be carried out in consultation with the appropriate
Although workable solutions can be found which
would not require any change to the remit of the Equality Commissions,
a re-examination of their remits and their relationship with the
Human Rights Commission would be necessary at some point, given
in particular the possibility of the ratification of Protocol
12 to the European Convention and the probability of further legislation
stemming from Article 13 of the amended Treaty of Rome.
6.3 Article 13 provides the legal base for
EU legislation to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or
ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.
Protocol 12 would create a free-standing right not to be discriminated
against on these and other grounds. Clearly Parliament will need
to consider how these additional rights can be secured in the
6.4 To ensure comprehensive coverage of
the issues, particularly when responding to allegations from individuals
of violations of human rights, we believe the remit of the Equality
Commissions should be extended to proceedings under the Human
Rights Act 1998.
7.1 We believe the Human Rights Commission
should be a statutory body established by primary legislation
setting out its powers and responsibilities. We believe its powers
and responsibilities should be no less than those of the existing
Equality Commissions. In accordance with the Paris Principles
we believe that the Human Rights Commission should have sufficient
independence to enable it to fulfil its functions without direction
or interference. The members of the Human Rights Commission should
be appointed by the Crown but with the approval of Parliament
and should be dismissible only by both Houses of Parliament on
specific grounds. The Government could ask the Human Rights Commission
to look into particular issues but the Human Rights Commission
should not be subject to any direction by Government in the way
in which it fulfils its functions, other than for its financial
probity. Within the overall remit agreed by Parliament, it should
be able to determine the allocation of its resources.
7.2 The EOC envisages a close relationship
between the Human Rights Commission and Parliament. The Commission
could be called upon to advise Select Committees, in particular
the Joint Select Committee, and report regularly to that Committee
on its work and priorities.
8.1 An assessment of resources would depend
on the breadth of the powers and responsibilities to be allocated
to the Human Rights Commission. It will be essential for the effectiveness
and credibility of the Commission that it should be adequately
resourced from the outset.
9. RANGE OF
9.1 We believe that the Human Rights Commission
should have a range of powers at least at the level of the Equality
Commissions. It should be empowered to conduct investigations;
to require people to provide information; to issue notices requiring
people to cease conduct which the Commission considers to be unlawful;
to conduct legal proceedings; to assist other parties to bring
legal proceedings; to issue Codes of Practice; to promote understanding
and awareness of the importance of human rights; to conduct research
and to engage in a range of activities designed to heighten awareness
of issues within its remit.
We believe the case is overwhelming for the
creation of a Human Rights Commission which should co-exist with
the Equality Commissions. It should be given the widest possible
remit designed to promote and enforce human rights standards throughout