Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

34.  Memorandum from National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (NACAB)

  The CAB Service welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Committee's call for evidence on the need for a Human Rights Commission for the United Kingdom. We have found it difficult however to respond to some of the detailed questions in the consultation paper, concerning for example, budgets and staffing, and believe that other organisations are better placed to comment on these issues. Our response is simply confined therefore to the question of what a Human Rights Commission could add to the current methods of protecting human rights in the United Kingdom.


  The CAB Service is the world's largest independent advice giving agency, delivering services from over 2,000 different locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and dealing with about six million new problems a year. NACAB is the membership organisation for all CABx. (In Scotland, our sister organisation, Citizens Advice Scotland, and its member bureaux, form Scotland's largest independent advice network, operating from 150 CAB Service points that cover Scotland from the islands to city centres.)

  The CAB Service has a long history of helping the more vulnerable members of our society to understand and assert their rights, and to negotiate the often complex processes which participation in our society entails. The Service also draws on its experience of client problems to suggest where improvements can be made to local and national social policy issues. These roles can be summed up by setting out the twin aims of the CAB Service, which are:

    —  to ensure that individuals do not suffer through lack of knowledge of their rights and responsibilities of the services available to them, or through an inability to express their needs effectively;

    —  and equally, to exercise a responsible influence on the development of social policies and services, both locally and nationally.


  The CAB Service believes that there is a good case for a Human Rights Commission to be established in this country. One of the great advantages of such a Commission would be its potential to work proactively to develop a culture of human rights within the United Kingdom. Whilst the Human Rights Act 1998 obviously allows challenges to be made against behaviour which contravenes the Act, a Commission could have the valuable role of working to prevent such breaches in the first place. This could be achieved through:

    —  the dissemination of information and advice, to raise awareness of the existence of legislation protecting human rights and the responsibilities incumbent upon public bodies to uphold human rights; and to raise awareness amongst the public of what those rights are and how to enforce them;

    —  monitoring the way in which human rights are protected in this country; identifying areas of poor practice and making recommendations accordingly; examining the effect of the Human Rights Act, and advising Government on appropriate reforms to the law.

  Such a Commission could also have the role of advising those who are looking to make challenges under the Human Rights Act, as well as taking test cases in the public interest.

  While the existence of the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Committee, and the Disability Rights Commission, provides valuable protection in their relevant areas of discrimination, these organisations do not have a remit to combat discrimination in other areas such as age or sexual orientation. There is also a whole range of rights within the Human Rights Act, with regard to, for example, humane treatment, employment, right to a fair trial, respect to private and family life etc which again do not fall specifically to these organisations to promote or protect. The CAB Service therefore sees a valuable role for a statutory body to oversee and co-ordinate the protection of human rights in this country, working closely with the existing equality commissions and learning from their expertise and experience.

10 July 2001

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