Joint Committee On Human Rights Written Evidence

8.  Memorandum from the Committee on the Administration of Justice

  I am afraid that for a variety of unavoidable reasons, the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) has not been able to respond in time to your call for evidence with regard to your forthcoming inquiry into the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and CERD's Concluding Observations (deadline 30 November 2004).

  However, in the event that it is not too late to be of some assistance to the Committee in its work, we note a number of issues below that we assume will be addressed in the course of the inquiry. If CAJ or others can provide further information on the points below, please feel free to come back and request additional materials. We will also copy our letter to others to ensure that they are aware of your inquiry and have already made submissions.

  1.  CAJ welcomes the scrutiny offered by the United Nations via CERD and welcomes the various recommendations, most of which have a direct and immediate relevance to concerns in Northern Ireland. We would in particular welcome the recommendation to the UK government to incorporate the Convention, and CAJ has serious concerns about the extent to which the recent government review of its international human rights commitments adequately addressed CERD's concerns in this regard.

  2.  The level of racial prejudice and racial attacks seems to have risen dramatically in Northern Ireland. While we accept the importance of media coverage of same, and welcome the decision of the Press Complaints Commission to visit Northern Ireland in Spring next year to inform people in Northern Ireland about its work, CAJ doubts that media coverage is the major concern. CAJ welcomes the requirement on the State Party to include more information on racial offences in its next report to the UN, and welcomes the gathering of official information (albeit belatedly with regard to Northern Ireland) which will allow for this information to be provided by government. CAJ is not certain that the monitoring arrangements will in the very near future allow the authorities to trace racial offences right through the criminal justice system, as CERD recommends. It is clearly vital to learn where, if anywhere, failures at different stages of the criminal justice system prevent the proper detection and prosecution of racist crime. CAJ believes it would be very helpful if the Joint Committee on Human Rights requested detailed information on this point and it may indeed be useful to draw on some of the material submitted to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the course of their inquiry into hate crime (which clearly also included race hate crime).

  3.  There is documented evidence of people of different racial backgrounds facing individual and institutionalised discrimination when in detention in Northern Ireland. The fact that Northern Ireland detains asylum seekers in prison also has implications for the UK's compliance with CERD.

  4.  CERD raised questions about the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act; the Joint Committee will want to study the impact of the legislation and may find it helpful to draw upon the recommendations made regarding this legislation by the UN Committee Against Torture when they very recently examined the UK.

  5.  As noted earlier (point 2), the recording by the police of racist attacks is relatively new. We are unaware of the timetable envisaged for the recording of "stop and search" operations and their impact, differentiated on community and racial grounds. The Joint Committee on Human Rights might want to explore this in some detail.

  6.  CAJ would draw the attention of the Joint Committee to the recently issued Proposal for a Draft Unauthorised Encampments (NI) Order 2004. It is our belief that this draft legislation flouts the Human Rights Act and seeks to criminalise the nomadic culture of Irish Travellers. We will be communicating this to the Department of Social Development, but it is very timely that the Joint Committee is looking at UK's compliance with CERD's recommendations. It is our strong contention that this legislation directly discriminates against Travellers and therefore runs entirely counter to the recommendation (see paragraph 23) that "the State Party adopt national strategies and programmes with a view to improving the situation of the Roma/Gypsies/Travellers against discrimination by state bodies, persons or organisations". It would be very important that the Joint Committee take the opportunity of this inquiry to indicate its strong disapproval of this legislation, which runs entirely counter to the spirit and provisions of the Convention itself.

  I hope that these brief remarks have been of some use and, as noted above, I will copy this letter and details of your inquiry to a number of groups here in Northern Ireland (NICEM, CWA, Traveller Movement, MCRC, Refugee Action Group, AI, the Law Centre and others) to ensure that they are all aware of your current programme of work.

3 December 2004

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