Joint Committee On Human Rights Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

2.  Memorandum from the Office of the Children's Rights Commissioner for London

  The Office of Children's Rights Commissioner for London (OCRCL) is an independent, non-statutory Office established to promote and protect the rights of London's 1.74 million children as described in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to ensure children's interests and views are taken into account in decision-making processes which affect them. The Office has previously submitted evidence to the Committee on the need for an independent human rights institution working for children together with a personal submission from the previous Director drawing on her experience of equalities and human rights work in Australia.

  The Office is presently half way through the final year of its three-year demonstration period. I am writing to update the Committee on our experiences to date and reflect on our learning in relation to the comments of the Minister for Children and Young People on Monday 18 November 2002 giving evidence on the role of an independent, statutory commissioner for children.

  In our experience there are considerable benefits which accrue to government and, more importantly, to children themselves from the adoption of a rights-based commissioner model. The Office works at a regional level, with all levels of London Government, to promote children's interests, rights and needs. Despite the establishment of a regional strategic authority for London and the delivery of central government programmes to reduce child poverty and social exclusion, there are numerous areas where children continue to fall through the gaps of statutory responsibility and their rights to safety, education, health and play are breached.

  An organisation which is seen to be clearly child-focused can play a useful role in bringing together different levels of government working to a range of different, and occasionally conflicting, interests and priorities. The focus on the principles of the UN Convention provides a helpful framework in considering and placing the "child's best interests" at the centre of regional government policy-making. In our experience different government agencies, which might otherwise fail to collaborate effectively, can be persuaded to collaborate in partnership with an organisation which is clearly drawing its guidance from the wider principles of the UN Convention rather than purely organisational or political concerns.

  The Office was successful in achieving appropriate commitments to children's rights and to a children's perspective in London Government from the Mayor and the GLA. We were commissioned to produce the Mayor's draft Children and Young People's Strategy, developed within the framework of the UN Convention, to be launched for formal public consultation early in the New Year. At a recent event on World Children's Day the Deputy Mayor, who Chairs the Children's Strategy Steering Group, described the work of the Office as "seminal" in its influence on the work and thinking of the GLA and identified a number of areas where the GLA and the various functional bodies were already taking forward work to better promote children's interests and rights in relation to transport, policing and spatial development policies.

  The Office has experienced considerable goodwill, and its input has been welcomed, by other levels of government in the region including the Government Office for London, the Association of London Government and the boroughs. For example, we have been invited to act as a "critical friend" in relation to Borough's best value reviews and to sit on the Consultative Committee of the Metropolitan Police Service. Due to the temporary, demonstration nature of our work it is not always appropriate for us to take up these invitations but they do demonstrate a belief and willingness on the part of statutory agencies in London that our role as an independent watchdog is a valuable and welcome one. Although the role will involve challenging current policy and practice from time-to-time, in practice the role is recognised as complementary to, rather than somehow undermining of government.

  We are disappointed that the Minister appears to suggest that the case being made for a commissioner lacks clarity. Over 100 NGOs actively support the establishment of a children's rights commissioner for England. Nearly half of these have signed up to a set of detailed "minimum requirements", produced in 2001 by the national campaign co-ordinating group set up by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (see Annex Two) including compliance with the Paris Principles, adopted by the UN in 1993.

  Although the Office has been able to demonstrate a number of achievements (Annex One), as a non-statutory Office we clearly lack the necessary powers and remit to require certain actions to be taken or appropriate information to be made available. Progress towards the development of the Mayor's draft Strategy has been slow and we have no powers in relation to statutory bodies who are unwilling or disinclined to engage with us. In certain instances even when Committee Chairs have welcomed our focus on children's rights, voices and experiences (for example, at a recent ALG seminar to promote our report Changing Schools) the operation and roles of present government structures can appear to work against their ability to apply that focus in practice.

  If anything, our experience to date has reinforced our belief that an independent human rights commissioner for children with clear statutory powers is essential to monitor where governments, despite considerable goodwill, are continuing to fail children. We favour a national rather than regional Commissioner because the institution's role must extend to monitoring, promoting and protecting children's rights in relation to the development of policy and legislation at Westminster. We believe that a powerful independent human rights institution, with appropriate regional offices, can act as a watchdog and champion for all England's children including the 1.65 million in London.

  I enclose further information on our work to date and agreed minimum standards for a CRC. If you require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me.


Modelling effective participation work and informing children about their rights

  We aim to demonstrate the benefits of actively involving children and young people in our work by working with an Advisory Board of children and young people. As well as demonstrating the capacity and willingness of children and young people to get involved in regional policy-making their input has helped convince policy-makers of the need for permanent, ongoing participation mechanisms for children in London Government and helped promote children's views on the potential role of a commissioner. The Office has provided information and advice on effective participation work to hundreds of voluntary and statutory agencies across London and produced a Handbook with guidance on working with an Advisory Board. This model was adopted by the national CYPU and children and young people were involved in the recruitment of the Welsh Commissioner.

Ensuring children's voices are heard and putting their interests on the policy agenda

  Last year we published the results of a major consultation with 3,000 children and young Londoner's in the Sort it Out! report. The purpose was to find out the extent to which children and young people feel their rights are respected and their priorities for change in their city. The Office has used the report as a tool for raising children's concerns on the agenda of London decision makers and to inform the development of the range of Mayoral strategies including the draft Children and Young People's strategy. A more in-depth version: Sort It Out Revisited was submitted as part of our evidence to the Victoria Climbie Inquiry.

Promoting access to advocacy and effective means of redress

  Although we do not provide information and advice to individual children on their rights we do promote a more strategic approach to the development of effective advocacy and complaints services for children. In November of this year we launched a new report: Minor Problems? at a conference with solicitors and advocates for children, funders and policy-makers in the field. Before we close we will be taking forward further work with the Legal Services Commission in relation to the development of a child-friendly needs based assessment tool and on children's voices in family disputes with the LCD.

Bringing together information and gathering evidence to help make the case for children

  In October 2001 the Office published the first ever State of London's Children report—which brings together information in a holistic way across all areas of children's lives. This demonstrates that despite growing up within a region—city ranked as the eighth biggest economy in the European Union its children are disproportionately disadvantaged and experience the highest levels of child poverty and inequality of any of the English regions. The report provides an invaluable information base for planning for improvements and helped prompt the national CYPU to commit to the production of a regular state of the nation's children report in their draft strategy published last November.

Working with government—at all levels—to influence policy and practice

  The Office has worked to put children's rights and interests at the heart of London-wide Government through the development of the Mayor's draft Children and Young People's Strategy. As well as outlining specific actions across a range of regional policy-making areas the draft includes proposals for permanent children's participation mechanisms in London, a child impact assessment of all Mayoral strategies, adequate resourcing of the strategy and regular monitoring and review mechanisms.



The Office of Children's Rights Commissioner should aim to monitor, promote and protect the human rights of all children and young people in England


  The powers and duties of the Children's Rights Commissioner should be compliant with the principles for national human rights institutions adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993 (the Paris Principles).

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should be guided by and promote full respect for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other relevant domestic and international human rights instruments.


  The Children's Rights Commissioner should be independent of government and able to review and report freely and publicly on any matter related to children and their rights and interests.


  The Children's Rights Commissioner should promote knowledge of and respect for the human rights of children and young people throughout society.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should promote respect for children's views, feelings and evolving capacities.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should seek to ensure that children have effective means of redress if their human rights are disregarded.


  The Children's Rights Commissioner should be able to put children and young people who wish to make a complaint, or others acting on their behalf, in contact with the appropriate investigating authority.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should be under a duty to review and monitor the availability to children and the operation of statutory complaints and whistle blowing procedures and the arrangements for children's independent advocacy.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should have an independent role in monitoring the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government should formally consult the Children's Rights Commissioner during the preparation of periodic reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Commissioner's views should also be sought on other government reports on human rights instruments that concern children and young people.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should examine and provide advice to the Government on the impact on children and young people of both proposed and existing law, policy and practice.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should be able to require government Ministers to carry out child impact reviews on any decision or proposal that affects or may affect children.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should have powers to require government departments and other bodies to consider his/her recommendations and if they decide not to comply with them, to explain their reasons publicly.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should monitor and make public the findings from all formal investigations and inspections affecting children and young people, including to children and young people.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should encourage, resource and carry out research that supports the fullest implementation of children's human rights.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should maintain positive contact with other bodies and organisations concerned with the human rights of children.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should produce an annual report on the implementation of children's human rights.


  The Children's Rights Commissioner should actively promote its role to children and young people, and to all other relevant groups, using a variety of communication methods.

  All reports and publications produced by the Children's Rights Commission should be made accessible and freely available to children and young people.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should set up a range of mechanisms to ensure it has direct contact with children and young people and is informed by their views and proposals.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should be able to offer financial or other assistance to any organisation that directly supports children in developing knowledge about and claiming their human rights.


  The Children's Rights Commissioner should have similar powers to other commissions to carry out formal investigations and make recommendations.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should have right of access to information, taking into account data protection legislation and the need to respect confidentiality.

  The Children's Rights Commissioner should have unrestricted access to any establishment providing care, treatment, education, rehabilitation or employment to children and young people.


  The Children's Rights Commissioner should be able to take part in legal proceedings (including individual cases, tribunals and public inquiries) that relate to children's human rights and in particular must be able:

    —  to investigate individual cases where previous attempts to resolve complaints have failed, or where there is no adequate mechanism to remedy an alleged breach of children's human rights, or where a general principle is at stake;

    —  to represent in legal or other proceedings children and young people whose human rights have been allegedly breached but who are unable to pursue a remedy because of their age, capacity or other vulnerable status;

    —  to provide assistance, including financial assistance, to children and young people for legal proceedings where the matter being considered has national significance; and

    —  to intervene as a third party in legal proceedings.


  The Children's Rights Commissioner should have sufficient resources to ensure it can effectively monitor, promote and protect children's human rights, taking into account the diverse needs and interests of children and young people across all regions of England.


  The legislation creating an independent Children's Rights Commissioner for England must have regard to UK-wide developments, and to the need to coherently address non-devolved matters.

October 2002

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 12 May 2003