Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

13.  Memorandum from the Association of Chief Police Officers


  1.  The Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) has been active and positive in its continuing work to ensure that the Police Service is compliant with the principles and spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights.

  2.  Policing in the UK is accountable to the public that it serves in many ways that range widely in character, formality and independence. Further developments in the near future are likely to make the procedures for the investigation of complaints against the police even more robust.

  3.  In the context of this evolving culture of accountability within policing and across many other key public authorities, it will be important to ensure that any model for a Human Rights Commission complements, rather than duplicates, existing mechanisms of scrutiny.

  4.  The Lord Chancellor has stated that the Human Rights Act would need a "bedding down period" before the establishment of a Commission should be considered. Current judgements in our courts would suggest that it may be some years before the Convention rights have an established and purposive meaning and effect within domestic jurisprudence.

  5.  This may begin to suggest that the "bedding down period" is not yet complete and that the question of whether a Commission is required should be deferred. The corollary is that if such a body were to be established, the case for it to have investigative powers may not yet be made out. There is a danger that the assumption of such duties might damage the credibility of the Commission at an early stage if its interpretation of the Convention freedoms were to outpace that of the domestic courts.

  6.  If there is a role for a Human Rights Commission at present, it may centre around promotional and advisory functions. An authoritative and independent source of guidance on human rights may be of benefit to public authorities and the public alike.


  7.  The Association of Chief Police Officers for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ACPO) welcomes the opportunity to present the Joint Committee with the Association's views on the potential configuration and role of a Human Rights Commission for the United Kingdom.

  8.  It may be relevant to preface our submission with an introduction to the ways in which the Police Service has responded to the demands of the Human Rights Act together with a summary of the existing mechanisms for police accountability with which any Commission would interact and co-exist. Effectively, these factors establish the context in which the answers to the Committee's questions have been framed.


  9.  ACPO has been positive in its approach to the Human Rights Act, viewing the legislation as an opportunity for enhancing the quality of service delivery and the Service's relationship with the communities it serves.

  10.  The ACPO Human Rights Working Group was created in 1998 and subsequently established a Human Rights Programme Team comprising police officers and support staff working full time on the issues raised by the legislation.

  11.  In its early stages, the team established meaningful working relationships with a wide range of partner statutory agencies and non-governmental bodies and this broad consultation has informed the Service's approach.

  12.  A primary role for the team is to audit service-wide policy and procedure for compliance with the Human Rights Act and European Convention on Human Rights. Audit tools have been developed for this purpose and the ACPO team have also ensured that the knowledge and experience that they have gained has been shared across the Service and has been used to inform the local audit and amendment of forces' own policies and guidance.

  13.  As a result of the first round of ACPO audits in 10 business areas identified as presenting a high risk, 1,685 potential compliance issues were identified and further explored through referral to relevant parties such as the Home Office and legal advisers. Some of the more visible products of this work have been the redrafted Firearms and Public Order manuals. These rewrites have not only sought to resolve potential human rights problems, but also to integrate the letter and spirit of the rights into the documents in a thoroughgoing way. The Convention's principles of accountability and transparency have also been reflected in the work so that the non-tactical elements of these manuals are now in the public domain for the first time.

  14.  The Director of Liberty, John Wadham, perhaps best described the structure and intention of this element of the programme. "ACPO has been extremely systematic and I applaud their approach. There has been no attempt to avoid difficult issues. Dealing with potential `Hotspots' creates the best chance of avoiding violations of the Convention, and by taking such action the UK police service can enhance its commitment to human rights and its global reputation".

  15.  While the work of policy review goes on at both ACPO and local levels, the Service has also put in place a substantial human rights training programme consisting of four modules designed to cater for the differing needs of all ranks and grades of officers and support staff.

  16.  It is also recognised that the implications of the Human Rights Act should not be confined to one training session, but should be properly considered throughout existing training programmes. As a result, relevant Convention issues and principles have been integrated into existing training courses by incorporating human rights considerations into the National Competency Framework.

  17.  The Service's preparation for, and ongoing work in respect of, the Human Rights Act reflects the believe that one of the primary purposes of policing is the protection of individuals' human rights.


  18.  If a Human Rights Commission were established for the UK, it is unlikely that it would have the scope to absorb or supervise all of the existing routes through which the Police Service is accountable. As a result, it would be important to ensure that any Commission did not conflict with, or duplicate, existing safeguards.

  19.  Over the past several decades, the Police Service in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has seen a welcome increase in the number of mechanisms through which it is accountable.

  20.  More informal arrangements that influence and scrutinise the local delivery of policing include the lay visitor scheme and Police Community Consultative Committees.

  21.  There are numerous more formal processes and bodies that influence the direction of policing within forces and which hold officers, basic command units or constabularies to account. Crime Reduction Partnerships and the consultative nature of Crime and Disorder plans give the public and local authorities a voice in service delivery. Police Authorities, Best Value review, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Audit Commission and the District Auditor provide further layers of independent scrutiny. While the complaints process is overseen by the Police Complaints authority, judicial review and civil litigation provide further options for enquiry and remedy. Indeed, it is likely that the system for investigating complaints against police will become even more robust in the relatively near future with the development of a new independent body with responsibility for, and oversight of, all complaints against the Police. More systemic problems may be within the scope of the existing equality Commissions or even become the subject of examination by the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee. Ultimately section 49 of the Police Act 1996 allows for the appointment of a public inquiry "into any matter connected with the policing of any area".


  22.  The Police Service Statement of Common Purpose and Values emphasises that: "The purpose of the police service is to uphold the law fairly and firmly; to prevent crime; to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law; to keep the Queen's peace; to protect, help and reassure the community; and to be seen to do all this with integrity, common sense and sound judgement". While retaining focus on the key objectives of preventing and detecting crime and maintaining the peace, we are beginning to learn and adapt to what the Convention rights and principles can add to the touchstones of fairness, "integrity, common sense and sound judgement" which govern our service delivery.

  23.  The courts as well as other key public authorities are also in the process of coming to terms with the Convention. The Lord Chancellor has said that the Human Rights Act would need a "bedding down period" before the establishment of a Commission to support it should be considered. Indeed, it is in domestic case law that the full or legal meaning of the rights within the UK will emerge. Current judgements would suggest that it may be some years before the Convention rights have an established and purposive effect within domestic jurisprudence.

  24.  This may begin to suggest that the "bedding down period" is not complete and that as a result, the time may not yet be right for a Commission. The corollary is that if such a body were to be established, the case for it to have investigative powers is not yet made out. There is a danger that if it were to take on such a role, the Commission's credibility might be damaged at an early stage if its interpretation of the Convention freedoms were to outspace—and be undermined by—that of the domestic courts.

  25.  In addition, the United Kingdom is fortunate enough to enjoy a political and legal system that already guarantees certain rights and freedoms. A mature justice system and a culture of accountability and performance management within the public services provide further safeguards.

  26.  In the case of the Police Service for example, it is clear that many of the existing mechanisms for accountability will need to consider human rights issues, but this does not necessarily imply that a Human Rights Commission is required to undertake these functions. It may be impractical to dismantle the existing arrangements and reconstitute them within a Commission. Equally, it is likely that a Commission with full oversight powers might duplicate the work of the many different bodies and statutory structures that make up the existing system.

  27.  If there is a role for a Human Rights Commission at this time, it may be promotional and advisory. An authoritative source of guidance on human rights that informs the public, public authorities and the bodies and mechanisms that scrutinise the provision of public services may be of benefit to all.


  Question 1.  What (if anything) do you think a Human Rights Commission might add to the current methods of protecting human rights in the United Kingdom? In particular, are there useful functions in connection with protecting human rights and developing a culture of human rights which do not fall within the remit of any existing agency in the United Kingdom, such as:

    (a)  Fostering a human rights culture in the United Kingdom

  28.  The Home Office Human Rights Task Force and publications like "Core Guidance for Public Authorities" may be a model of how Government, the public sector and NGOs can work together to promote an issue in a measured and useful way. However, the continued existence of such groupings cannot be guaranteed. An independent Human Rights Commission might be better able to provide the information and guidance that public authorities will require in the longer term to assist them in ensuring that their performance management regimes take proper and meaningful account of human rights issues.

  29.  There is perhaps a risk that without guidance and leadership from an authoritative body, the "culture" may become either one of avoidance of litigation or of complacency if "Convention-friendly" judgements continue to be the exception rather than the rule within domestic courts.

  30.  The Police Service works with many partner agencies whose approach to the protection of human rights may be different from our own. A common human rights standard promoted by a Commission would help to provide a more uniform understanding of the issues between the Service and the partners with whom it works.

    (b)  Education in human rights

  31.  Raising public awareness of the rights may be essential to the success of the Human Rights Act within the UK by ensuring that an understanding of rights is leavened with an awareness of the responsibilities that go with these freedoms, It may be that an independent Commission could make this case with more effect than either the Police Service or Government.

  32.  Over the next several years, the Convention rights are likely still to be finding a footing within the domestic courts. During this period, there may be a role for a body to promote the rights and their positive ethical impact upon the public services. This would accord with the Police Service's approach and prevent the Human Rights Act from being perceived as merely a (somewhat unreliable) tool for litigants.

    (c)  Advising and assisting people who claim to be victims of violations of their Convention Rights

  33.  It may be that the Commission should not devote substantial resources to providing specific advice that is available elsewhere. Instead, a focus upon the provision of generic information and guidance to organisations such as the Citizen's Advice Bureaux and Law Centres may support the Commission's goals of fostering a human rights culture and raising public awareness without diverting resources to answer individual queries that would perhaps be more appropriately handled by legal firms in the private sector.

    (d)  Developing expertise in human rights

  34.  At present, there may be some duplication within public authorities as they develop and maintain teams to try to ensure that their organisation's policy and practice are compliant with the demands of the Convention as mediated by the Human Rights Act. At least some of this duplication could be relieved by research and information being pooled within an accessible national institution. Certainly, ACPO would welcome a body that could give authoritative and consistent assistance and advice to the public, public authorities and quasi-public authorities alike.

    (e)  Bringing legal proceedings on human rights issues in the public interest

  35.  If a case has merits and is in the public interest, then existing agencies such as the Legal Services Commission should ensure that it is formally pursued. Just as the provision of advice to victims should perhaps be confined to the provision of general guidance and information, so the Commission should guide victims towards the bodies that already exist to assist them rather than duplicate their function.

  36.  Existing equality Commissions with similar powers were founded upon clear domestic legislation whose implications were comparatively foreseeable. In contrast, the Human Rights Act provides a somewhat uncertain mechanism for "domesticating" the Convention principles and Strasbourg's judgements. In effect, the legal meaning of the rights within the UK has not yet emerged through domestic case law and seems unlikely to do so for some years. The Lord Chancellor has stated that the Human Rights Act would need a "bedding down period" before the establishment of a Commission should be considered and it could be argued that this period is not yet complete. There is a risk therefore that if the Commission were to take on this role, its credibility might be damaged at an early stage if its interpretation of the Convention freedoms were to exceed that of the domestic courts.

  Question 2.  If a Human Rights Commission were established, how should its role and functions relate to those of this Committee?

  37.  Although the constitutional framework for Commissions is not an area in which the Police Service has particular expertise, there are a number of potential models. For example, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission is obliged to present its annual report to the House of Representatives. The Danish Centre for Human Rights has more limited aims, but is a statutory body. It reports to a non-parliamentary council or board whose members must be drawn from a representative range of Danish political (and other) opinion.

  38.  The Joint Committee seems to mediate between these two models in a helpful way since it represents to varying degrees, a spectrum of political opinion, human rights expertise and parliamentary oversight somewhat distinct from Government. It could be that any Commission should report to the Joint Committee which would be able to review the body's achievements and contribute influentially to its ongoing agenda by requesting or suggesting research in particular areas of concern.

  39.  In order to preserve its independence, a Commission should perhaps be influenced, rather than bound by the Committee's recommendations. A check and balance on this independence may be found in the precedent set by the arrangements for the Information Commissioner. The holder of this office may be dismissed, but only with the consent of both Houses of Parliament and in accordance with the conditions set out in the statute that established the role.

  Question 3.  In what order of priority would you arrange the functions of such Commission? If you think that a Commission should examine a range of issues, to which issue or issues do you think that the Commission should give priority?

  40.  ACPO believes that promotional, educational and advisory activities should be the primary focus for the work of a Human Rights Commission. The order of functions set out at 1. (a)-(e) seem properly to rank the priority that should be accorded to these roles and the Police Service's views on the scope or definition of these tasks are set out in the response to Question 1.

  Question 4.  If a Human Rights Commission were to be established, should there be a single body with a jurisdiction extending to all parts of the United Kingdom, or separate bodies for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or both a United Kingdom body and bodies with territorial responsibilities? (The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission must continue to exist, as this is one of the requirements of the United Kingdom's agreement with Ireland about the future of Northern Ireland).

  41.  ACPO recognises that the constitutional arrangements for Wales and Scotland imply that these areas may have varying degrees of autonomy in deciding whether they wish to establish their own Human Rights Commission. However, a single body for the mainland may be the option most likely to provide the authoritative and consistent guidance that the police and other public authorities may seek from a Commission.

  42.  It may not be certain at this stage that the human rights issues within Wales, Scotland and England are so diverse as to require separate or additional bodies. While Scotland's distinctive legal and administrative systems may make a case for the provision of specialised guidance, this does not necessarily imply that a separate Scottish Commission in the only viable response to this need.

  43.  Unless there is clear and persuasive evidence that separate Commissions for England, Wales or Scotland are required, a single Commission for the mainland may be an appropriate position to take initially. If it is established in the future that additional Commissions are required, then the question could be revisited.

  Question 5.  If there were to be Human Rights Commission with responsibilities for the whole United Kingdom (whether or not it operated alongside other bodies with responsibility for just one part of the United Kingdom), what relationship should there be between its work in respect of Northern Ireland and the work of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (and similar Commissions in Scotland and Wales if they are established at some time in the future)?

  44.  The distinctive circumstances in Northern Ireland suggest that the Commission there and any mainland equivalent should have close informal relations, but that the Northern Ireland body should remain independent of the mainland Commission and retain sole "jurisdiction" within Northern Ireland.

  45.  If the primary role of the UK (or mainland) Commission is to be promotion and the provision of guidance, then this would distinguish it from the Northern Ireland body in a way that would be supportive of the Commissions existing independently.

  46.  If Commissions were established within Wales, England and Scotland, these bodies should be primarily responsible for issues emanating from the devolved Executives, leaving other matters which remain the province of Central Government to be dealt with by the UK (or mainland) Commission.

  Question 6.  If a Human Rights Commission were established, how should its work relate to that of other bodies with special responsibility for particular rights, such as the Information Commissioner, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission, and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland? In particular:

    (a)  should a Human Rights Commission perform functions now performed by existing specialist Commissions, or should it co-exist with them? If they were to co-exist, what roles should they perform in areas where their responsibilities might be expected to overlap?

    (b)  if a Human Rights Commission were to co-exist with the existing equality Commissions, should issues relating to equal opportunities be excluded from the result of the Human Rights Commission and be given to the equality Commissions?

  47.  For reasons explored elsewhere, ACPO would favour a Commission that focuses upon promotional and advisory work, on raising public awareness and providing structured guidance for public (and quasi-public) authorities and the bodies that oversee them.

  48.  Rather than deal formally with complaints, the commission would refer individuals to the relevant equality Commission, Ombudsman or other body with jurisdiction. Where no satisfactory alternative remedy exists, the Commission could provide members of the public with advice on seeking legal representation. In some cases, an informal approach to the public authority concerned could be made on behalf of the complainant.

  49.  This style of body would not threaten the existence or remit of existing Commissions. However, a working relationship with them could be established that might result in joint, or at least co-ordinated, publications and other activities that would deal with shared themes in an agreed manner.

  50.  With the Convention rights still "bedding down" within the UK, a body with modest aims and scope may be the right first response rather than initially investing wider powers within a Commission that will fulfil an incompletely determined need. Over time, the case may be made out for an expansion of the body's role and it could grow accordingly. Indeed, the gradual evolution and unification of the equality and Human Rights Commissions in Australia indicates how far this process may develop. The ability for the public, public authorities and business to make a "one-stop-shop" for guidance, codes of practice and advice on the gamut of equality and rights issues would be beneficial. Whether this and related needs will ultimately result in the formation of a single equalities body in the future is yet to be seen.

  Question 7.  If a Human Rights Commission were to be established, how should its independence of Government be preserved while ensuring an appropriate type and level of accountability? In particular:

    (a)  how should its Chair, members and key staff be appointed?

  51.  Although this is not an area of expertise for the Police Service, it is suggested that the selection process should be undertaken by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments with the ultimate responsibility for appointments resting with the responsible Minister and/or representatives from the Joint Committee.

    (b)  how should its funding be provided?

  52.  It has been suggested by Liberty that funding should be provided by way of grant in aid from the sponsoring department. ACPO is supportive of this suggestion. Other additional sources of non-governmental funding might include financial support from United Nations or European funds for particular promotional activities. Charging for certain services and the acceptance of donations could also be considered provided that the arrangements did not conflict with either the role of the independence of the Commission.

    (c)  to whom should it be accountable (for example, to a parliamentary body)?

  53.  The response to Question 2 briefly explores this area. The Joint Committee on Human Rights may itself provide a suitable mechanism for accountability. The terms of reference for the Committee could be amended to include this additional responsibility.

    (d)  how should the matters mentioned in (a), (b) and (c) take account of devolution to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales?

  54.  It may be that the relevant parliament and assemblies will wish to develop their own views on this issue. While altering the structures of accountability for the Northern Ireland Commission may not be appropriate, there may be few obstacles in principle to inhibit the mainland Commission(s) (or its regional offices) from reporting to the devolved bodies on issues within their jurisdiction or concern.

  Question 8.  In the light of your answers to Questions 1 to 7, what is your estimate of the level of staffing which would be required by the body or bodies you propose and what the annual cost might be?

  55.  A promotional and advisory Commission for the mainland might be expected to be of a structure and size comparable to that of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. This body comprises one full-time Chief Commissioner, eight part-time Commissioners and 13 staff and operating with a budget of £750,000 per annum (although the Chief Commissioner has recently stated that a budget of £1.5 million would be more appropriate).

  56.  Although ACPO may not be best placed to speculate on the staffing level or annual cost of running a Commission, it is clear that if such a body is to function effectively, it must have adequate support and resources.

  Question 9.  Some Commissions currently operating in fields related to human rights have a range of powers. For example, they might 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 legal proceedings; to issue Codes of Practice; to conduct research; and to engage in a range of activities designed to heighten awareness of issues raised within their remits. If a Human Rights Commission were to be established, what powers should it have?

  57.  It may be of benefit for the public services and the public if part of the Commission's advisory function were devoted to providing codes of practice for public authorities. In the case of the Police Service, such codes could catalyse existing systems of accountability by acting as an authoritative basis from which relevant performance indicators could be derived by bodies like Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. It is recognised however that for such guidance to be purposive, it would need to be founded upon evidence of current police performance. For this reason, ACPO would accept an obligation to provide relevant information to a Human Rights Commission in much the same fashion as it does to other statutory bodies such as the Audit Commission.

  Queston 10.  Are there other relevant issues or considerations which have not been covered in answers to the earlier questions?

  58.  These areas are briefly explored within the introductory remarks towards the front of this memorandum.

28 June 2001

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