Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

54.  Memorandum from Mr Sam Budu


  Throughout my education in Ghana (West Africa), which was a British Colony until 1957, I was made to believe that the United Kingdom was the mother of all democracies. It was a cultural shock to me, when I arrived in the UK to realise that UK citizens or subjects did not have a Bill of Rights. What was also disturbing in the mother of democratic societies was the absence of a written Constitution, for which citizens and residents could rely on in demanding their rights and seek justice. The absence of a Bill of Rights and a written constitution was and still is a weakness in a civil society in one of the most advanced and powerful countries in the world. Though the mere presence of a Bill of Rights and a written constitution would not guarantee absolute rights, to citizens, residents and visitors, it must be recognised that governance by Acts of Parliament and the rule of law maybe is even weaker, with regards to the protection of human rights. This is because usually, Acts of Parliament tell the citizens and residents, what is lawful and unlawful. Acts of Parliament do not tell citizens and residents what their rights are, which should be protected and guaranteed to all by their humanity.

  The incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law, for the first time enshrined onto the statute books the human rights of individuals from October 2000, individuals are now able to know what their rights are in addition to knowing what is lawful and unlawful (which Acts of Parliament tell them).

  For centuries individuals have had to fight against what is unlawful and violations against their lawful rights through the courts and other institutions such as the Equality Commissions and other agencies. Unfortunately, the structures and institutions that individuals would have to fight against what is unlawful or violations against their lawful rights are often through the courts. Historically, the courts interpret the law by following examples in the past (case laws) some of which are centuries old. However case law is always in the past and may not bear relevance to the present. Again, case laws, particularly those that are at least forty years old may be tilted in favour of the aristocracy and the rich. There is therefore inherent weakness in fighting for your rights through courts.

  1.(a)  Due to the absence of a Bill of Rights and a written Constitution for centuries, there is no single organisation such as Liberty, CABx, etc to assist individuals and groups to seek their human rights. Of late groups or mob action has become the norm for the individuals to seek redress. Last but not least it was expensive for individuals to seek their rights through the courts let alone go to the ECHR to fight for their fundamental Human Rights.

For the reasons stated above, there is not sustained culture of individuals fighting for their human rights in the UK. For the Human Rights Act to have a positive impact on all sections of society (individuals, organisations, disadvantaged groups, etc) and to ensure real democratic accountability, it is critical for the creation of a new organisation that would set up a framework to enable especially ordinary people to seek redress, when their human rights are violated by powerful and strong organisations such as statutory, private and voluntary organisations.

  (b)  Education is also very pivotal to the effectiveness of the Human Rights Act. As at now there is no organisation that is taking the lead in educating people about the existence of the Human Rights Act. If the people are not aware of their rights under the convention, let alone the processes for exercising their rights, how can the people seek their violated rights: The Act will remain another piece of wonderful legislation on the statute books. Only the educated, rich and powerful will have real access to justice under the convention. In fact and often, it is the uneducated, poor and the vulnerable ones whose fundamental human rights are violated.

  (c)  Such an organisation will facilitate the process to enable such individuals to have recourse to the courts. Part of their role in facilitating the processes will be the provision of advice and support to individuals similar to the roles of the existing equality commissions (EOC, CRE, DRC). The new organisation will also receive originating complaints from people who allege violations of their human rights. They will then conduct initial investigations into the complaints, gather the necessary evidence and advise the individual as appropriate. The advantage in this arrangement is that, weak cases may not reach the courts and therefore increase the rate of success cases before the courts. This will in turn increase confidence and encourage people to exercise their civil democratic and fundamental human rights. For example, without the initial assistance given to individuals by the EOC, CRE and the DRC, many individuals who are able to bring successful cases of discrimination against their employers, would not even attempt to exercise their rights under the equality legislation.

  (d)  There is no doubt that already there are in existence human rights experts in the legal profession. However, most of them are from criminal, family, property, etc backgrounds. With the creation of the new body that will educate people about the Convention rights, there will be increase in the demand for the services of human rights experts. In order not to raise expectations and at the same time not be in a position to fulfil such expectations, it is important that ready supplies of experts are available. Otherwise a vacuum would be created and vulnerable people will be susceptible to exploitation by unscrupulous individuals within the legal profession. Such a situation will be disappointing and the people would lose faith and be discouraged from exercising their convention rights.

  (e)  Championing the public interest through the courts by individuals or groups is often extremely difficult, sometimes an impossible task. Apart from commitment and dedication, the individual/s or group/s must have the time and resources to fight for the public interests. Evidence suggests that individuals, who have been successful in bringing legal proceedings under the public interest, have suffered a personal tragedy such as death, serious accidents, neglect, serious abuse, etc. It is the tragedy, personal experiences and the determination to stop similar occurrences that push them on. One does not need to suffer a tragedy, neglect, serious abuse, etc, in a civil democratic and accountable society to fight for the public interest.

  There is therefore the need for someone, be it an individual or organisation, to facilitate the process for bringing legal proceedings on human rights issues in the public interest. It is important that an environment where individuals can easily bring legal proceedings in the public interest is created and sustained. Only the creation of a national body with powers and resources can ensure that the existence of the right environment to enable people easy access to legal proceedings on public interests under the convention.

  2.  I believe the Joint Committee on Human Rights will have a time limited existence if a Human Rights Commission is created. That is, the Committee will cease to exist on the creation of a Human Rights Commission. However, in terms of accountability, this committee should be replaced by or turned into a Parliamentary Committee that the HRC will be accountable to.

  3.  The police, and the security agencies, prisons, should give priority in addressing abuse of power; abuse neglect by government departments, local authorities and other statutory bodies such as NHS. For example, in the case of police, investigations of complaints against police officers should be taken away from the Police Complaints Authority (who use police officers to investigate police officers) and given to the Human Rights Commission, an independent and non-police officers, whether retired or serving should conduct such investigations. Death in Custody or Prisons should also be investigated by the HRC. Neglect and negligence by local authorities, NHS Trust that come under the convention should all be dealt with by the HRC.

  4.  With devolution and regional governance becoming a reality, it is only right and appropriate that there will be one HRC for England and Wales and separate ones for Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, they should be encouraged to complement each other and share examples of Best Practice.

  5.  The three Human Rights Commissions for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland should co-exist and complement the work of one another. For example, it should be possible for two or more commissions to work jointly on one case that has implications for residents of the countries concerned.

  6.(a)  The HRC should co-exist with the Equality Commissions. Where their responsibilities overlap there should be collaborative work. For example, in my own organisation, we collaborate and complement the work of the Racial Harassment Initiative. We deal with racial discrimination and the Racial Harassment Initiative deals with racial harassment and violence. However, an initial complaint of racial harassment may lead to a charge of racial discrimination after initial investigations by the Racial Harassment Initiative. The discrimination aspect of the complaint is then transferred to us for further investigations, advice, support and assistance to the complainant. I envisage a similar working relationship between the Equality Commissions and the HRC, where areas of work and responsibilities overlap. The Equality Commission will start a case and the HRC will complete it.

  Again, there are other areas of Equality issues that are currently not covered by any of the Equality Commission but come under the Human Rights Act 1998, such as discrimination against same sex relationships (gays and lesbians) and religious discrimination.

  (b)  Issue of equality often have human rights element to it. Whilst it is important that the existing equality commissions should be the main bodies to deal with equality issues, the Human Rights Commission may continue from where the equality commission ends.

  7.(a)  The HRC should have a Chair or Commissioner with members and key staff as the equality commissioners. In fact, it should be properly resourced in order for it to be able to perform the duties expected of it effectively.

  (b)  The HRC should be funded by the tax-payer but be independent.

  (c)  The HRC should be made accountable directly to parliament and not any Secretary of State as in the case of the equality commissions. It should not come under any government department. Preferably it should report to an all-party parliamentary committee.

  (d)  It should be the same for Scotland and Northern Ireland. However, since Northern Ireland already has a HRC, if the existing arrangement is suitable and appropriate, then it should remain.

  8.  I personally think that there should be no price on justice and I get worried when ministers embark upon measures to reduce the cost of the criminal justice system at the expense of justice. Fundamental Human Rights of the individual cannot be quantified in monetary terms. However, I am also aware that resources are limited and should be used expeditiously. I am unable to put a price on the work of the HRC, except that it should be sufficiently resourced to perform its duties effectively and on good time. Initially, a budget similar to that of the Criminal Justice Review Commission or the CRE should be a reasonable start.

  9.  The Human Rights Commission should be given teeth not to bite but to chew. It should have powers to investigate, require people (including Secretaries of State and civil servants) to provide information, issue notices, conduct legal proceedings, assist other parties to legal proceedings, conduct research, educating the public, etc. I personally do not think that it should issue codes of practice. However, where it thinks existing laws are in conflict with the convention, it should have powers to recommend amendments of the law to parliament, through the accountable body (that is the Parliamentary Committee) and not a Secretary of State.

2 July 2001

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