Joint Committee On Human Rights Sixth Report


  The three existing equality commissions were approached in order to gain some understanding of what might realistically be expected of a human rights commission in working with public authorities.

  Case work is the major consumer of the time and resources of the equalities commissions. The EOC handles some 25,000 complaints a year of which, around 60 are taken to court. The DRC handles some 30,000 complaints, 2 -3,000 of which might require the attention of case workers or qualified advisors and around 70 to be taken to court. Both the DRC and EOC employ rigorous filtering criteria before deciding to take a case or support a case in the courts. Cases taken are those that will clarify principles in the law, test new law, extend the manner in which the law is used or end serious abuse.

  The equalities commissions are moving away from pursuing a case work orientated agenda to seeking more promotional ways of achieving change (being less reactive and becoming more proactive in their work). Both the DRC and EOC seek to undertake at least one campaign each year. Both commissions put a particular emphasis on "knowledge transfer"—getting other organisations to embrace equality issues in their work. Thematic inquiries are important to the work of the equality commissions—the EOC has conducted reviews of sex equality in the fire services and coverage of diversity issues in national police training. The DRC intends to launch an inquiry into hospital resuscitation policies and disabled people.

  None of the equalities commissions normally work directly with individual public authorities. They do not have the human and financial resources for this. Instead, they focus their efforts on influencing the "umbrella" organisations—the representative and regulatory bodies—that are already at work within different sectors. As it was put, in the DRC, to work with bodies that "press buttons and pull levers" within a sector. The CRE appears to have the most effective and sophisticated arrangements for utilising these existing networks. Armed with its new powers under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, the CRE has established an inspectorate forum and used the new public sector duty to promote racial equality to prompt regulators to include racial equality indicators in their regulatory activities. We saw in section 7.5, for example, the impact that this was having on the clinical governance review processes of the Commission for Health Improvement.

  Although not armed with a similar public sector duty, the DRC has worked successfully with the DFES, Learning and Skills Council, QCA, OFSTED and teacher training bodies to produce a toolkit, for use in further education colleges. The intention was to assist these colleges to meet and exceed the standards and requirements for education set out in the Disability Discrimination Act.

  The representative function of a commission should not be underestimated—the simple difference to be made by having spokespersons who attend events and meetings in a sector to express a viewpoint. The involvement of the commissions in "local government family" networks, for example, is clearly effective in raising the profile of equality issues. Put simply, if you do not have a voice at the table your issue does not get debated. If you come bearing gifts (resources and materials) your issue may be adopted. And if you have a statutory mandate, you can make people come to you to explain how they will be achieving your objectives.

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Prepared 26 March 2003