Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

16.  Memorandum from Professor Rebecca MM Wallace, Head of School and Kenneth Dale-Risk, Lecturer, School of Law, Napier University, Edinburgh

Question 1.

  A Human Rights Commission would fulfil to a varying degree all five functions set out in Question 1. Functions identified (b)-(e) would all contribute to (a) which must be the overarching aim—viz the fostering of a human rights culture.

Question 2.

  The Commission would require to be an independent advisory body whose functions would be complementary to the Committee. The role of the Commission would involve scrutiny of proposed legislation and advice as to its compliance with human rights instruments. The Commission would have to be accountable to but independent of Westminster.

Question 3.

  See answer to Question 1 above. The optimum way to create a human rights culture involves public education and the development of expertise in human rights. The aforementioned should be the everyday priorities for the Commission. However it is important that the Commission have the competence to investigate alleged violations and take "test" cases in appropriate circumstances. The emphasis on education and "test" cases to avoid an over litigious culture developing.

Question 4.

  There needs to be Regional Human Rights Commissions to take account of different legal systems and the consequences of devolution. The authors of this submission have submitted a response to the Scottish Executive Consultation Paper, a copy of which is attached. The United Kingdom Parliament has retained competence to legislate for the United Kingdom in certain designated areas thus it is suggested that there requires to be a United Kingdom body which will act in advisory capacity. Such a body would liase with the Regional Bodies.

Question 5.

  As indicated in the response to question 4, it is the authors' view that there require to be individual Commissions for each of the nations in the United Kingdom, but in addition, a body for the whole United Kingdom. In addition to acting in an advisory capacity to the UK Parliament, the UK body would act in a co-ordinating role, in order to ensure that the regional bodies act consistently, and to promote a human rights culture throughout the country.

Question 6.

  See answer to question 12 in the authors' response to the Scottish Executive consultation paper. It is the authors' view that the functions currently performed by existing equality Commissions are to a large extent discrete from those it is envisaged would be performed by Human Rights Commissions. It is important, therefore that the existing bodies continue in operation. It is not clear why there should be problems created by the co-existence of Human Rights and Equality Commissions. Co-operation between the various Commissions can ensure that any problem which arises is dealt with by the appropriate body.

Question 7.

  The members of the Commission must be appointed in a manner which ensures that they have the requisite level of expertise in the area of human rights, while additionally obtaining representation of different sectors of society. Funding for the Commission will come from the public purse. It must be accountable to Parliament, possibly through the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Regional Commissions must be funded by and answerable to the Parliamentary bodies created by the process of devolution.

Question 8.

  A small number of executive members supported by a permanent research staff would be required for a United Kingdom commission. The regional bodies will require a similar level of staffing. See response to Question L of the Scottish Consultation.

Question 9.

  The Commission must have the powers necessary to conduct test cases. It must therefore have the power to conduct legal proceedings, to assist other parties to conduct proceedings and to heighten awareness of human rights issues. It must also have a research function and have the ability to issue Codes of Practice to ensure that good human rights practice is observed in all sectors of society.

5 July 2001

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