26. Memorandum from Scottish
Human Rights Centre
Further to your call for evidence on the need
for a Human Rights Commission in the UK please find enclosed the
Scottish Human Rights Centre's response to the Scottish Executive
Consultation on a Human Rights Commission for Scotland. Apologies
for the delay in responding but as you are aware there has been
a detailed consultation on this issue running to the same timescale
which has had to take priority for us.
The Scottish Human Rights Centre believes that
Scotland needs a separate Human Rights Commission and would not
be adequately served by a UK Human Rights Commission. In light
of the fact that such a commission already exists in Northern
Ireland and may soon exist in Scotland we would suggest that a
commission for England and Wales would be preferable to a UK commission.
However it is important to note that human rights are not currently
sufficiently protected by the existing equalities commissions
and thus a separate body charged with specifically protecting
all human rights is necessary.
Should a Scottish Commission fail to be established
we would welcome the creation of a UK Commission along the lines
outlined in the enclosed document. Of fundamental importance to
any such body is independence and impartiality. Any such body
must be established with reference to the "Paris Principles"
(The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 52/128 on National
My apologies for the lack of detailed response
however I am sure that you understand that our first priority
is a Human Rights Commission for Scotland. If you have any questions
or require further information I would be happy to help.
17 July 2001
UK HUMAN RIGHTS
1. What might a Human Rights Commission
add to the current methods of protecting human rights in the UK?
In particular, are there any 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 UK, such
as: fostering a human rights culture, education in human rights,
advising and assisting people who claim to be victims of violations
of their Convention rights, developing expertise in human rights,
bringing legal proceedings on human rights issues in the public
A Human Rights Commission would ensure that
all human rights are protected as not all rights are currently
protected by the existing equalities commissions and other statutory
bodies. For example if you are not an ethnic minority, disabled
or discriminated against on basis of your gender then you have
nowhere to turn to receive support or guidance on how to challenge
that abuse. This is particularly pertinent in light of the rights
provided by the Human Rights Act but which have not been adequately
publicised or explained by central or local government.
The creation and promotion of a human rights
culture was an aim of the Human Rights Act but unless a body is
charged with ensuring this happens then this will fail. An important
part of creating such a culture is education, not only in schools
but throughout society ensuring that everyone is aware of their
rights and responsibilities and can play an active part in society.
The current development of human rights in the
UK is piecemeal as judges and lawyers deal with cases with only
a small amount of training and little or no expertise. A Human
Rights Commission would not only ensure that all practitioners
were fully trained but would also promote best practice, ensuring
the comprehensive and coherent development of human rights in
(See pages 8-10 of attached document for full
2. If a Human Rights Commission were
established, how should its role and functions relate to those
of this committee?
A Human Rights Commission could present its
annual report to the Joint Committee on Human Rights for scrutiny
and for the report to be laid before parliament. A Commission
would also be able to offer support and expertise to the committee.
3. In what order of priority would you
arrange the functions of such a 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?
The functions of a Human Rights Commission are
equally important and should not be divided. Similarly the priority
of issues which it examines should be left to the Chief Commissioner
to determine on basis of current problems once the Commission
(See pages 11-16 of attached document for roles
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 UK, or separate bodies for England,
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or both a UK body and bodies
with territorial responsibilities?
The Scottish Human Rights Centre believes that
Scotland needs a Scottish Human Rights Commission, however this
would not preclude the creation of a UK wide body if it were found
to also be necessary. In view of the existence of a Northern Ireland
Human Rights Commission and the potential creation of a Scottish
Human Rights Commission, it would be best to establish an English
and Welsh Commission rather than a UK Body.
(see page 15 of attached document for further
5. If there were to be a Human Rights
Commission with responsibilities for the whole UK, what relationship
should there be between its work in respect of Northern Ireland
and the work of the NI commission? (and Scotland, Wales and England
A UK Human Rights Commission would need to establish
working practices with each of the other Human Rights Commissions
which were established (Northern Ireland as established; and Scotland,
Wales and England if established).
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 NI? In particular:
Should a commission perform functions now
performed by existing 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?
If a Human Rights Commission were to co-exist
with the existing commissions, should issues relating to equal
opportunities be excluded from the remit of the commission and
given to the Equalities commissions.?
A Human Rights Commission and the existing statutory
bodies should create working practices for how to deal with areas
of overlap. These kinds of practice already exist with regard
to the existing bodies therefore there is no reason why they could
not be extended to a Human Rights Commission.
No area should be excluded from the remit of
the Human Rights Commission but it should be able to refer cases
to other bodies where they are the most appropriate body to deal
with a specific issue.
(see page 17 of attached document for further
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?
How should its Chair, members and key staff
How should funding be provided?
To whom should it be accountable?
How should the matters mentioned above take
account of devolution?
Appointment should be through a public appointments
procedure which is open and accountable. Funding should be set
by parliament but provided by Government, and should be set for
a period of three-five years to allow for forward planning and
security of tenure. This period should span the time for any General
Election to ensure political impartiality.
A Human Rights Commission should be accountable
to parliament through the presentation of an annual report.
See above comments and attached documents for
information on devolution issues.
8. In light of your answers to the above
questions, 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?
The level of staffing would depend on what type
of body was established and what other commissions were in existence
at the time of establishment. It should be for the Chief Commissioner
to decide what staff is necessary, however provision should be
made for sufficient research and administrative staff as well
as sufficient resources to carry out all of its functions and
9. Some commission 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 within their remits. If a human rights commission were
to be established what powers should it have?
See pages 11-16 of attached document for roles,
functions and powers.
10. Are there other relevant issues or
consideration which have not been covered in answers to the earlier
See attached document on a Scottish Human Rights
Commission for further information.
17 July 2001