Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

25.  Memorandum from the Ulster Human Rights Watch

Question 1

  The United Kingdom Human Rights Commission (UKHRC) should be entrusted with essential functions such as:

    —  fostering a sound human rights culture based on fundamental principles and democracy;

—  developing expertise so as to adapt human rights within the context of the United Kingdom;

—  educating and training in order to promote a human rights culture and favour the implementation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the UK.

  Other functions such as advising, assisting people, bringing legal proceedings, etc should be left to other bodies.

  The attribution of functions to the UKHRC should be guided according to the principle of separation of powers. This would prevent the UKHRC becoming a kind of autonomous body making rules and at the same time acting on the grounds of these rules.

Question 2

  The UKHRC would exercise its power under the control of the JCHR. The purpose would be to ensure that the UKHRC operates within its remits and to assess its work.

Question 3

  The UKHRC should give priority to the functions of—

    —  research and expertise: defining the democratic framework in which human rights are to be developed within the UK; determining the principles on which human rights should be developed and how they should be implemented within the UK;

—  fostering a human rights culture which takes into account the historical heritage of the UK;

—  education and training.

Question 4

  There should be a single body with jurisdiction extending to all parts of the UK in order to maintain the unity of the nation.

  Separate bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be either extensions of the main body or should work under the authority of the central body.

Question 5

  The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) should be subordinated to the UKHRC. In any matter of importance dealt with by the NIHRC, the final decision should belong to the UKHRC.

Question 6

  The work of the UKHRC could relate to that of other specialist commissions. The UKHRC would be able to deal with the fundamental issues relating to functions exercised by these existing bodies; principles, culture etc.

  The issues relating to equality could be dealt with by the UKHRC if related to questions of principle.

Question 7

    (a)  By the executive or the parliament.

(b)  By the Government.

(c)  To regional parliaments and Westminster.

(d)  Double control by local authorities and Westminster.

Question 8

  Since the UKHRC would concentrate on functions identified in the answer to question 3, staff and finance could be minimised.

Question 9

  The danger of giving powers, for example to draw up codes of practice as well as to conduct legal proceedings, is that a poweful autonomous body may be created which could influence the development of human rights issues without proper accountability.

  Separation of powers should prevail between the power to issue guidelines and recommendations for human rights issues, and the power to act upon these guidelines and recommendations.

  If we are to allocate these different powers, the division should be reflected as follows—

    —  the UKHRC should have the power to conduct research, issue codes of practice, and engage in a range of activities designed to heighten awareness of human rights issues;

—  other bodies could be entrusted if necessary with the powers to conduct investigations, require people to provide information, issue notices requiring people to cease conduct considered to be unlawful, conduct legal proceedings, assist other parties to legal proceedings.

  The UKHRC should have the power to conduct research and issue guidelines and recommendations concerning human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as raising awareness of these issues.

Question 10

  The issues of human rights and fundamental freedoms are related to the constitution of the UK and as such must be dealt with at the Westminster level.

4 February 2002

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