46. Memorandum from Rights
1. Rights of Women is an industrial and
provident society, which was founded in 1975 to promote the interests
of women in relation to the law. We run a free, national confidential
telephone legal advice help line for women by women. We specialise
in advising in family law, especially domestic violence and Children
Act matters. Our aims are to empower, inform and educate women
on their legal rights. We are a membership organisation and our
activities include producing publications, organising Conferences
and training courses, and policy work.
2. Rights of Women believes that there are
compelling reasons for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission.
3. Whilst acknowledging the valuable work
done by existing statutory agencies in the fields of race, sex
and disability, this does not provide a systematic and complete
structure for the protection of the full range of human rights
in the UK. There is a need for an organisation that fully embraces
all aspects of human rights including education, fostering a human
rights culture monitoring compliance of all public bodies with
international human rights standards.
4. Rights of Women welcomes the Human Rights
Act 1998. We believe, however, all citizens should understand
what human rights are and how they apply to them. Without education,
citizens are not empowered to enforce these rights.
5. A Human Rights Commission should ensure
that as many people as possible are aware of human rights. This
should not be confined to the simple statement on content of rights
in the European Convention, but should include the fostering of
a human rights culture. This should be undertaken in a number
of ways including formal education, leaflets, free and accessible
training and multimedia. This should be coupled with clear and
accessible information that is available through a number of sources
(job centres, community centres, workplaces etc).
6. A Human Rights Commission would be charged
with education of all public bodies and should implement a system
of internal review in order to minimise breaches of human rights.
Public bodies should be required to update and review all practices
in light of human rights legislation. One role of the Commission
could be to audit this and ensure compliance. There should be
a promotion of good practice.
7. Inevitably with increased awareness of
human rights, there will be an increase in the number of people
claiming to be victims of an alleged violation. Rights of Women
believes that it is essential to maintain public confidence in
human rights by providing free and accessible assistance to those
who claim a violation of their human rights.
8. A Human Rights Commission should develop
a service to answer all legal enquiries about human rights. This
may be in person, by telephone, letter or email. Those enquiring
should be provided with a general statement on the law and whether
there is a possible violation.
9. A Human Rights Commission should seek
to bring a case on behalf of a victim of a violation if it is
in the public interest or deals with important issues or if a
novel point of law arises.
10. If the case does not fall into the above
category, the enquirer should then be referred to a suitable agency
if necessary for their case to be further investigated.
11. A Human Rights Commission would also
be able to investigate complaints made to them and be given powers
to seek evidence. This function may be separate from the power
to bring proceedings on behalf of an individual.
12. Rights of Women believes that consideration
should be given to the establishment of specialist areas within
the Commission. Rights of Women advise women on many areas that
have relevance to human rights. We believe the areas of priority
for the Commission should be:
Discrimination (especially on the
grounds of sexual orientation, age and religion).
13. Insofar as there is overlap with existing
agencies, see our reply to question six. The Commission should
undertake research on these areas in addition to the duties outlined
in the answer to question one above.
14. Rights of Women believes that a Human
Rights Commission would co-exist with existing agencies and indeed
(a) Where there may be overlap in responsibilities,
Rights of Women believes that the Human Rights Commission would
provide support to the existing agencies in terms of expertise
and resources. A Human Rights Commission should take a supporting
role where their responsibilities overlap with existing agencies.
The reasons for this are:
The existing agency will probably
have greater expertise and experience of the issue involved, as
well as greater visibility;
The existing body may have the
confidence of the group which it represents and have greater representation
in the community;
There may be reluctance on behalf
of the community involved to approach an unknown agency.
(b) Rights of Women believes it would not
be satisfactory to exclude any area from the remit of a Human
Rights Commission. Some areas would be duplicated by existing
agencies, but not all human rights violations are one-dimensional.
Rights of Women believe that it would be more satisfactory for
the Human Rights Commission to have the widest ranging powers
in terms of investigation and action as is possible.
15. Rights of Women believes that a Human
Rights Commission should have the following powers and responsibilities:
(a) To advise the Government, Parliament
and the wider community on any aspect of human rights law and
practice. The Commission could respond to a specific enquiry by
an individual or promulgate advice or information on its own initiative.
This may be in the case of a perceived human rights violation;
(b) To monitor UK compliance with human rights
legislation. Ministers already have to state if legislation is
compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998. The Commission would
also comment on legislation as part of the scrutiny by Parliament;
(c) To promote ratification to international
human rights eg Optional Protocol. The Commission would advise
Government, Parliament and the community at large about the implications
of ratification of a particular document and encourage the extension
of human rights law;
(d) Educate all citizens about human rights
and promote a human rights culture;
(e) Increase awareness of human rights in
public bodies and ensure all public bodies review their practices
regularly. This is particularly important. It is hoped that a
Human Rights Commission would assist public bodies in minimising
the number of human rights violations and to guard against any
form of institutionalised discrimination;
(f) Develop specialist areas of expertise
eg women, children and asylum seekers. Rights of Women believes
that some sections of the community at large face different problems
and this should be recognised by a Commission. It is hoped that
the Committee will recognise that simply having a general body
looking at human rights will not on it's own guarantee that all
will receive equal protection. Some steps will have to be taken
by a Commission to ensure that it acts pro-actively in protecting
(g) Investigate alleged human rights violations
by any public body and publish reports. This may also involve
the ability to require witnesses to provide evidence. A Human
Rights Commission would, hopefully, be proactive and not simply
respond to complaints of alleged violations. Rights of Women believes
that it is extremely important that a Commission would actively
seek to ensure that all persons human rights are respected and
enjoyed. This may impose the responsibility on a Commission to
actively research and report on different problems faced by different
sections of the Community. For example, a Commission would investigate
the Government's response to domestic violence and ensure the
Government is upholding women's human rights by providing adequate
(h) Advise and assist people with violations
of their human rights and bringing legal proceedings on human
rights issues in it's own right. Rights of Women believes the
establishment of a Human Rights Commission will actively push
forward the boundaries in human rights law and practice and would
allow individuals greater opportunity to access human rights protection.
It would also be envisaged that a Commission would be able to
intervene in human rights proceedings as a third party or at the
invitation of the Court.
29 June 2001