Call for Evidence: Equalities and Human
The Joint Committee on Human Rights has been
examining the case for a human rights commission. This inquiry
has been conducted in the light of the decision not to establish
a commission at the same time as the Human Rights Act 1998 was
passed. In debates in Parliament on that Act, the Government on
a number of occasions invited the JCHR (when established) to come
forward with a view on the need for such a body. The Committee
(which was first set up in January 2001), in seeking to establish
whether a case can be made for the establishment of such a body,
has been looking for evidence of whether there is an unmet need
for arrangements to assist in the promotion and protection of
human rights, and whether some form of independent, publicly-funded
commission could meet some or all of those needs.
In this context, the Committee has announced
that it intends to respond to the Government's current consultation
on the structure of a proposed single equalities body, which is
to be established in the wake of the requirement to provide legislative
protection against discrimination on grounds of age, religious
belief or sexual orientation, in addition to the present grounds
relating to race, gender and disability. The
Joint Committee itself published a short interim report on its
inquiry in September 2002, and
intends to report again before the end of the consultation period
that the Government has set for consideration of the future of
the equality commissions. That consultation closes at the end
of February 2003.
You may have submitted evidence in response
to the Committee's earlier calls for evidence. The Committee is
also aware of the work done in this area by the British Institute
of Human Rights, funded by Comic Relief. The conclusions of that
research were published this month. 
This request for further written submissions
is seeking to add to that evidence in the specific context of
the relationship between the proposals for a new structure for
the equalities bodies and arrangements for the promotion and protection
of human rights.
In its interim report, the Committee concluded
If any proposals for measures to protect and
promote equalities fail to address the relationship between those
powers and functions and arrangements for promoting and protecting
human rights, they are likely to be incoherent, incomplete and
In its interim report, the Committee also said
The purpose of our inquiry is not just to examine
alternative institutional wiring diagrams for a human rights commission
and come up with our own engineering blueprint. We want to know
what difference a commission could make to the lives of citizens
of the UK, especially those who do not presently enjoy their full
It is in that context that the Committee is
seeking further written evidence. It would be grateful if, in
relation to the groups or individuals whom you represent, or to
whom you provide services, you could answer any of the following
questions which you consider applicable, or on which you have
What are the Convention rights (as
set out in Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998) that are applicable
to the problems faced by the people with whom you deal?
What are the concerns that you have
about failures in service provision by public bodies which may
amount to a violation or potential violation of Convention rights?
In relation to these issues, can
you distinguish, where possible, between what you regard as breaches
of the Human Rights Act in contrast to failures in best practice?
Can you provide some indication of
how widespread and how serious these problems are (that is, how
many people are affected and how severely)?
Can you identify which public bodies
have responsibility in these areas, and outline why, in your view,
they do not satisfactorily remedy the actual or potential detriments
of rights for which they have responsibility (examples might include:
lack of statutory powers, insufficient resources, inadequate training,
failure of co-ordination or co-operation among responsible agencies,
lack of a human rights culture)?
Which inspectorates or other official
"watchdogs" have jurisdiction over these matters, and
what are your views on how and to what extent they address these
concerns? Do they do so from a human rights perspective?
Do the issues of concern that you
have raised presently fall within the remit of the Commission
for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission or the
Disability Rights Commission; and if they do, have they been taken
up by any of these commissions and what have the outcomes been?
Do you believe such issues will fall
within the remit of the proposed single equalities commission
after implementation of the EU Directive on discrimination on
grounds of sexual orientation, religion and age?
Do you believe they should fall within
the remit of that proposed body?
Can you describe any relevant legal
action that has been taken since 2 October 2000 and the impact
of the Human Rights Act on the outcome; can you comment on why
legal action might not have been taken; and more generally give
your view on the effectiveness of legal proceedings as a remedy
for these concerns?
What, in your view, are the essential
remedial actions that need to be taken; do they involve legislative
amendment; a change in policy; more resources and better training
and/or a change in the culture within the relevant public bodies?
Do you believe that there is a need
for a body, independent of government, that has powers to promote
and protect human rights? What action would you envisage such
an institution taking to remedy the concerns described above?
What powers would it need to have to do this effectively? How
could it make a difference where existing mechanisms have so far
failed to provide a remedy?
Do you have a view on the structure
of such a body? Should it be contained within a single equality
commission or should it be separate? Why would these institutional
arrangements make a practical difference in relation to the concerns
that you have expressed? Is your case based on pragmatic considerations
or on what you regard as issues of principle?
The Committee fully accepts that replies to
these questions will often be illustrative rather than exhaustive.
It is hoped that you can focus on practical examples rather than
In view of the timescale of the Government's
consultation, responses received by Friday 17 January 2003 are
likely to make most impact.
19 December 2002
11 The Government's consultation paper, Equality
and Diversity: Making It Happen, was published by the Office
of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Home Office, the Women &
Equality Unit and the Department of Work and Pensions in October
2002. See in particular, pages 28 and 29 Back
Twenty-second Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
of Session 2001-02, The Case for a Human Rights Commission:
Interim Report, House of Lords Paper 160/House of Commons
Paper 1142, The Stationery Office Back
Something for Everyone: The Impact of the Human Rights Act
and the Need for a Human Rights Commission, BIHR, 10 December