Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-45)



  40. I notice that you did not include the Venice Commission. In the Office of the High Commission for National Minorities what was their reaction to your proposal?
  (Professor Dickson) We have not received the legal advice from the High Commissioner for National Minorities, it is on a particular point in the Bill of Rights document. We know that a draft of that has been prepared but the Commission as a body has not yet received the final version of that. At the recent meeting of European National Human Rights Institutions, which we co-hosted with the Irish Human Rights Commission, the Director General of Human Rights in the Council of Europe expressed a willingness to receive from the British Government a request that it, namely the directorate, provide advice on our proposals for a Bill of Rights, and we shall be following up on that suggestion.

  41. I am very pleased to hear that. How many of your Commission have seen the draft that exists?
  (Professor Dickson) I have seen a draft of the draft, I think there is another version but I have not seen that yet. There is another draft. It was given to me on that basis by the legal adviser.

  42. It is suggested that in this draft there has been an attempt to undermine the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, in that it has not paid sufficient attention to parity of esteem and equity. The draft as carried forward could undermine the Fair Employment legislation and it could challenge the recruitment of the police 50/50 on questions of parity and that the overall effect would be to revert to a situation of majority and minority rather than in a system of equality and parity of esteem between communities.
  (Professor Dickson) All I can say, Mr McNamara, is the draft that I saw did none of those things. It explained how our Bill of Rights proposals would or would not affect those matters, such as monitoring under the Fair Employment legislation. It did not come to the conclusion that in any respect our proposals would be undermining any of those things, including the 50/50 recruitment to the Police Service.
  (Professor Hadden) I think on the issue of parity of esteem the reason behind our proposal in the initial draft document to replace the word "minorities" with the word "communities" was precisely to achieve parity of esteem not only between the two main communities, the unionist and nationalist communities, but also to include in that other smaller minorities. We were concerned that to use the words "majority" and "minority" in the context of a small region within the United Kingdom in which the two main communities are increasingly equal would be awkward and difficult and that it would be better to use the word "community" rather than "minority". We did raise this with the Review Committee under the European Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities. We discussed it with them and they did not raise any objections. As Brice has explained, we also referred the matter to the OSCE High Commissioner on Minorities, I have not seen the draft advice but I am satisfied in my own mind that what we are doing is fulfilling the obligation on us to do something about parity of esteem between the two main communities and other communities. On the more general question of involvement of international bodies, phase 3 in the process of the Bill of Rights is specifically directed towards that objective in the sense that we have identified a number of issues of which the one you are asking about is one on which we need to involve experts from the main European and international bodies in discussions with the principal players and the political parties to see if we can come to some consensus on those difficult issues on the question of minority and majority, on the question of socio-economic rights, on the question of how the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland are to be dealt with in a regional Bill of Rights, not applying to the whole of the United Kingdom or the whole of the State. Those are difficult issues and we want to involve international experts and the main players, all of the people who have made submissions to us and the political parties insofar as that is possible. That is what we are proposing at the meeting that we are summoning on Monday to take forward this process.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  43. I have one or two questions I would like to put, building on what you just said, Professor Hadden, I have been very struck reading the recent evidence from friends of the Bill of Rights, friends of Human Rights, like the minister Des Browne MP, like Professor McCrudden, like Professor Christine Bell and Dr McCormack I have been struck by the strength of criticism from friends of the project about the way you have gone about it. As you know the Minister has criticised a number of matters, some of them you have touched on, and we have not got the time to go into any of them and it would be unfair to do so now, all I can say as a so-called expert is that I have been very struck by the power of what they said and written. I just wonder whether you would acknowledge that the situation is quite serious at the moment in that you could jeopardise the entire project unless you heed those kind of criticisms?
  (Professor Dickson) Of course there are critics of our Bill of Rights process and of our Bill of Rights proposals. The critics come from many, many different quarters, and if I may say so there are some unusual, unholy alliances amongst our critics, people who object to one aspect of it are teaming up with people who object to another aspect of it and thereby seeking to undermine the whole process. Mr Browne, the Minister, did say recently that he had enormous admiration for the way in which the Commission has conducted its consultation. I think our process will stand up to scrutiny. When it comes to the actual content of the Bill of Rights everything is still up for grabs. Our document was a consultation document, it raised issues, it provoked different views, that was its intention. Nothing is written in tablets of stone yet and will not be for some time. I regret very much if critics so undermine what the Commission is trying to do that it deprives us of our duty given by the Good Friday Agreement to advise the Government on what should be in the Bill of Rights.


  44. There was so much more that we could ask you, Professor Dickson, but given our time constraints I would like just to end with the Hosking Report. You have talked a lot today about one or other committee of the Commission. I certainly get the impression of a management system which is not exactly streamlined. Can you say whether you are going to implement the Hosking Report recommendations and that the role of your committees will be reduced?
  (Professor Dickson) The implementation of Hosking was, I think, rightly delayed because there were some internal difficulties over the process and the recommendations around that Report. We then committed a further consultant to help facilitate the process of change that we want to put in place. His report is due to be finalised very, very shortly and the process we have gone through with him has been very helpful and productive. I foresee that in the next 12 months, because his tentative recommendations presuppose that it will take a long time to put everything in place, we will be a very different organisation from the one that we are now. One of his recommendations at the moment is that our committee structure be streamlined and I think that would be a sensible thing myself.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Mr McNamara

  45. Can we have copy of those recommendations?
  (Professor Dickson) Certainly when they are completed and finalised, yes.

  Chairman: That would be a very good idea. Can I thank you, Professor Dickson, Professor Hadden, Ms Sloan and Mr Yu for coming to appear before us today and giving your time. It has been very helpful to us and nice to see you all again. Thank you.

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