Joint Committee On Human Rights Eighth Report

Appendix 5: Letter dated 5 December 2007 to the Rt Hon Jack Straw MP, Secretary of State for Justice, Ministry of Justice

As you will be aware, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, has taken a keen interest in the extent to which residents of private sector care homes who are funded by local authorities are protected by the provisions of the Human Rights Act. In a recent House of Lords judgment, in the YL case, it was found that private sector care homes are not 'public authorities' for the purposes of the Human Rights Act, even in relation to functions contracted out by local authorities. Ministers have stated that, in their view, this interpretation of the Act is not consistent with the views of Parliament at the time the Act was passed and steps are being taken to bring private sector care homes performing contracted-out functions within the ambit of the Act.[55]

My Committee has recently reported on this issue and is engaged in a variety of follow-up activity.[56] We are also interested in how the Human Rights Act relates to other contracted-out public services, including prisons, immigration detention facilities, secure training centres, prisoner and detainee transport and other institutions and services in the criminal justice system. We would be grateful to know your view on the following points:

¾  whether the firms which supply services are public authorities for the purposes of the Human Rights Act, in the light of the YL judgment; if not, what steps are being taken to bring such firms within the ambit of the Act;

¾  what guidance exists to commissioning authorities about the provisions such contracts should include concerning human rights, and to providers as to how to ensure compliance with such provisions;

¾  and how contractual obligations relating to compliance with the Human Rights Act are monitored and enforced in practice.

In relation to contractual obligations, it would be helpful to receive some practical examples of contractual provisions currently in force, an indication of any changes made or recommended after the YL judgment, and some practical examples of action taken to enforce such obligations.

We are also concerned about whether the way contracts are drafted could, in some cases, undermine compliance with human rights. One example might be where financial penalties are stipulated in a contract for escape from custody and this leads to more widespread use of restraint than is proportionate. We would be grateful for your views on this, and also on the transparency of contractual information in this area and whether more could and should be done to make information available to Parliament and the public about the ways in which such contracted-out services are managed.

We would be grateful if you could send us a memorandum dealing with these issues, and any other related matters you consider relevant, if possible by Monday 7 January. I have written in similar terms to the Home Secretary.

55   For example, HC Deb, 13 Nov 07, c526w Back

56   JCHR, Ninth Report, Session 2006-07, The Meaning of Public Authority under the Human Rights Act, HL Paper 77/HC410 Back

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