Joint Committee On Human Rights Sixth Report


  In the two years that the Human Rights Act has been in force, the need to comply with the Act has become an integral part of the work of public authorities. The Act has not given birth to a "human rights culture" or made human rights a core activity of public authorities. This report considers, therefore, that a human rights commission is not essential to the process of ensuring that public authorities comply with the HRA but it is essential to the process of establishing a "human rights culture" in the UK.

  A human rights commission is not a "cure all" for problems being faced in establishing human rights in public authorities. There are weaknesses in the system of mainstreaming human rights that need to be addressed irrespective of any decision on a human rights commission. In the areas of local government and health, there are steps that can be taken to incorporate human rights into the performance management and assessment frameworks governing their work. These steps will help to instil human rights into the core activities of these sectors. Public authorities can also be put under a more basic duty to promote human rights in their work as is taking place in the field of equalities. A human rights commission is not essential to any these steps but there would be a clear added value to be gained through the involvement of such a commission. In particular, a human rights commission would probably prove to be the most effective driving force for developing and implementing a public sector duty to promote human rights. Its ability to work with a range of regulatory and representative bodies (umbrella organisations) in different sectors would be central to the pursuit of this agenda (given that a commission would not have the capacity to work directly with individual public authorities).

  A human rights commission would be able to fulfil a number of other key roles in relation to public authorities. It could:

    —  change the perception of human rights in public authorities from just being matters of legal compliance to also being a means of better service delivery;

    —  provide much needed guidance and advice (working largely through umbrella organisations) targeted at individual sectors; and

    —  keep public authorities "honest" in their handling of human rights matters through the ability to bring test cases and to conduct thematic inquiries.

  The cautionary note to this is that even if decisions are taken to establish a human rights commission in the near future, such a body would not come into existence and be fully effective for several years. The experience in Scotland shows that debate over the need for such a commission can rekindle interest and attention in the subject. However, it has to be recognised that human rights are on a fast ebbing tide from the high water mark of late 2000. The risk is that there will be little for a human rights commission to work with in the public sector unless existing human rights networks are rebuilt and re-established. Whether in the context of preparatory work for a human rights commission or as an alternative this is a critical and urgent task.

Jeremy Croft

January 2003


  1  See, for example, J Croft—"Whitehall and the Human Rights Act 1998". [2000] Constitution Unit, "Whitehall and the Human Rights Act 1998: The First Year". [2002] Constitution Unit and J Watson—"Something for Everyone: The impact of the Human Rights Act and the need for a Human Rights Commission" [2002] BIHR.

  2  Health Service Circular. HSC 2000/025. 25 July 2000.

  3  See [].

  4  R v North and East Devon Health Authority ex parte Coughlan [1999] COD 340. DoH Health Service Circular—"Continuing Care. NHS and Local Council responsibilities" [HSC 2001/015] 28 June 2001.

  5  R v Bracknell Forest District Council ex parte Johns and ex parte Mclellan [2001] EWCA Civ 1510

  6  Joint Committee on Human Rights—Minutes of evidence, 21 March 2002. HL Paper 103—i/HC 719-i, Ev 5.

  7  LGA—"Acting on Rights—a Guide to the Human Rights Act 1998" [1999] and "Deciding Rights—applying the Human Rights Act to good practice in local authority decision making" [2000].

  8  See [].

  9  District Audit "Human Rights Management Arrangements Diagnostic". Para 1.11.

  10  Ibid. Para 1.9.

  11  Human rights were listed as a separate category in the Local Government Core Risks (2001/02) and under "Risk management" in the NHS core Risks (2001/02).

  12  "Human Rights Diagnostic. Do your management arrangements support a rights-based culture?" District Audit flyer.

  13  IPPR—"Report on the IPPR survey into whether public authorities are preparing for implementation of the HRA 1998" [2000].

  14  LGA—"Preparing for the Human Rights Act. A Survey of Local Authorities." Research Briefing 3 [2000].

  15  District Audit—"The Human Rights Act. A Bulletin for Public Bodies". [2002].

  16  One Chief Executive of a Primary Care Trust interviewed estimated that he received an average of 60 e-mails each day from the DoH on every subject bar human rights.

  17  District Audit—"The Human Rights Act. A Bulletin for Public Bodies". [2002]. P2.

  18  These documents are available, either in full or edited form at []

  19  Available at []

  20  Speech delivered by Lakhvir Rellon, Commissioner, Disability Rights Commission at an expert seminar on "Withholding and withdrawing medical treatment" on 14 November 2002. Available at [].

  21  See, for example, [] where advice is offered under such headings as "Why are written records about what goes on in the health and social care fields so important in practice, when it comes to human rights cases?"

  22  Donoghue v Poplar Housing and Regeneration Community Association [2001] EWCA Civ 595 at [65]; [2001] 3 WLR 183.

  23  Ibid, at [66].

  24  Law Reform Commission: "Renting Homes 1: Status and Security" [2001] para 5.77 p106.

  25  See Chartered Institute of Housing. Certificate of Housing. Level 3—section on Traveller Site Management.

  26  See Independent Housing Ombudsman. Current Case Digest 21. [2002] []

  27  See [] for details.

  28  See [] for details.

  29  The consultation paper and responses are available at [].

  30  See Scottish Executive Central Research Unit—"Public Authorities and the Human Rights Act" [2001].

  31  Speech by the Deputy First Minister at the launch of the Inverclyde Education Authority's Human Rights Charter for Schools. December10, 2001.

  32  The Scotsman. December 12, 2001.

  33  See for example the description of Glasgow City Council's preparations in K. Meechan—"The Human Rights Act—Public Authority Preparations". [2001] J.L.G.L. Issue 3 (56).

  34  See Paul Chaney and Ralph Fevre—"An Absolute Duty: Equal Opportunities and the National Assembly of Wales". [Institute of Wales] [2002] p 21.

  35  See DTI—"Equality and Diversity: Making it happen" [2002] paras 9.4 an

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 26 March 2003