2 The EHRC's human rights work|
8. The EHRC formally came into existence on 18 April
2006, following the enactment of the Equality Act 2006. Trevor
Phillips was appointed as Chair of the Commission on 11 September
2006. Twelve other commissioners were appointed on 4 December
2006 and further appointments were made in 2007.
Nicola Brewer took up her appointment as chief executive in March
2007. The Commission assumed its new powers and took on the responsibilities
of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Equal Opportunities
Commission and the Disability Rights Commission on 1 October 2007.
9. The organisation's formal launch also marked the
beginning of a six-month "build-up phase", in which
it sought to build a credible and independent Commission and identify
strategic priorities for future work. The EHRC was accredited
by the UN as a national human rights institution in January 2009.
A strategic plan for 2009-12 was published in June 2009 which
identified five strategic priorities for the organisation:
- "secure and implement
an effective legislative and regulatory framework for equality
and human rights;
- create a fairer Britain, with equal life chances
and access to services for all;
- build a society without prejudice, promote good
relations and foster a vibrant equality and human rights culture;
- promote understanding and awareness of rights
and duties - deliver timely and accurate advice and guidance to
individuals and employers; and
- build an authoritative and responsive organisation."
Key performance indicators were specified for each
10. The EHRC launched an inquiry in April 2008 to
"assess progress towards the effectiveness and enjoyment
of a culture of respect for human rights in Great Britain"
and "consider how the human rights framework might best be
developed and used".
The inquiry was described as "a crucial part of the Commission's
developing strategy on human rights".
It involved three research projects, a national survey of public
perceptions of human rights, and written and oral evidence from
nearly 3,000 people.
The inquiry's report was published in June 2009. Its recommendations
included 15 aimed at the Commission itself, including to:
- assume a leadership role in
raising public awareness of the importance of human rights and
the Human Rights Act;
- produce updated guidance on human rights and
legal developments related to the Human Rights Act;
- use every available opportunity to explain publicly
the purpose, value and benefits of human rights and the Human
Rights Act to our society; and
- assist public authorities to develop mechanisms
to integrate positive obligations under the Human Rights Act with
their work on public sector duties.
11. Neither the strategic plan nor the report of
the human rights inquiry recommended that the Commission should
produce a stand-alone human rights strategy. The strategy published
on 10 November 2009 is discussed below.
12. Writing in the Guardian in September 2009,
Mr Phillips summarised the main achievements of the EHRC since
300 legal actions, new rights for six million
carers, better access to banks for disabled people
the government to guarantee proper protection for soldiers on
the front line
£10m distributed to grassroots groups
fighting everyday discrimination and prejudice
for small businesses facing recession, so far taken up by over
[and] the threat of judicial review - our
"nuclear option" against the government's illiberal
proposals on pre-charge detention.
A fuller summary of the EHRC's work to date was published
by the Commission in October 2009.
Human rights vision
13. Our predecessor Committee concluded in 2003 that
"there was an unmet need for citizens to be assisted in understanding
what their rights are, how these rights must be balanced with
those of others, and how to assert their rights without necessarily
having recourse to litigations".
It was concerned that the development of a human rights culture
have been in retreat" since the "highwater
mark" of the coming into effect of the Human Rights Act in
it concluded that:
A commission would give human rights a focus,
resources and a degree of institutional stability not found recently
in central government. This would provide a base from which there
might be a realistic chance of devising and disseminating a more
credible culture of respect for human rights in public authorities.
It was largely on this basis that the Committee recommended
the establishment of a national human rights commission.
14. In our view, this vision of what a national human
rights institution can achieve in the UK remains as valid today
as it did in 2003. We have undertaken several inquiries during
this Parliament into how a human rights based approach to service
delivery can deliver real benefits to service users - for example
in healthcare for older people and services for adults with learning
general we have found isolated examples of good practice amidst
a general reluctance on the part of public authorities to regard
human rights as anything more than a set of minimum legal standards.
We remain far from embedding a culture of respect for human rights
in the UK public sector.
15. The EHRC's human rights inquiry reached essentially
the same conclusion. It found that "much remains to be done
to give effect to the internationally agreed standards and values
to which everyone is entitled" but expressed the view that
adopting a human rights approach "should facilitate rapid
improvement in public services".
We agree with the main findings of the EHRC's human rights
inquiry. As several of our previous inquiries have concluded,
embedding a culture of human rights in public authorities in the
UK would drive service improvements which would benefit people
who use them. The Commission has a major role to play in leading
this process. Our concern is with whether the EHRC is doing enough
to devise and disseminate a culture of respect for human rights
in public authorities, the main aim our predecessors identified
for the Commission.
Assessments of the EHRC's human
16. We received memoranda from several NGOs which
drew attention to positive achievements of the EHRC. Race on the
Agenda, for example, noted that the EHRC's involvement in legal
cases had "made a significant contribution to equality and
It also commented on the "real leadership" the Commission
had shown on the Equality Bill.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) praised some of
the EHRC's reports
and the British Institute of Human Rights welcomed the EHRC's
June 2009 human rights report and said that it was "vital
that the EHRC uses the momentum of the report to further develop
and improve its approach to and work on human rights".
The Equality and Diversity Forum listed what it considered "real
achievements" including new research on "relatively
neglected topics" such as discrimination against Gypsies
and Travellers as well as "a thoughtful approach" to
policy issues such as how HIV is addressed in the EHRC's disability
17. A number of critical notes were also sounded,
however. Race on the Agenda said "very little has been done
by the Commission to promote good relations through the social
dimension of equality and human rights".
It criticised the resources devoted to "collecting evidence
that was already available" during the EHRC's human rights
inquiry. The Equality
and Diversity Forum expressed concern that the human rights inquiry
was "the only visible work EHRC has done that is explicitly
concerned with fulfilling its duty to promote respect for human
listed human rights debates from which it said the Commission
was absent due to a "failure to communicate its role effectively".
Lord Low of Dalston complained that briefings for parliamentarians
on disability issues had "almost completely dried up"
At times one has almost been tempted to think
of the EHRC as a failing organisation.
watched the turbulent history
of the EHRC with some disappointment
The EHRC has a vital
statutory duty [to defend human rights] and notwithstanding considerable
staffing and other resources, this is a duty which it is yet to
18. Professor Klug argued that the EHRC was "not
providing us with a credible vision of what human rights are,
how they can add value in everyday life" and asked "why
is the Commission not addressing some of the misinformation on
Ben Summerskill stated that "the Commission has not got a
sense of itself as a human rights commission" and that, given
its level of funding, the EHRC "should be doing significantly
Campbell said "the Commission's human rights work was marginalised
due to the Chair's constant consistent lack of appreciation of
the importance and effectiveness of the Human Rights Act".
19. Professor Klug served as a member of the human
rights inquiry team during 2008-09 and suggested that the work
was "almost entirely" aimed at promoting human rights
within the EHRC.
Sir Bert Massie argued that "there was nothing in the human
rights report about the Commission that we could not have done
earlier" and suggested that the inquiry had been "set
up to delay things".
Dame (now Baroness) Nuala O'Loan chaired the inquiry and said
identified the areas in which significant activity
is required, most particularly of the Commission itself. It will
be important that the momentum is not lost, and that the Commission
does not shy away from the work which is required. The governance
processes and the ethos of the Commission will be fundamental
to its ability to deliver on its statutory remit. My experience
was that there was a need for development in these areas, if the
EHRC is to function effectively as a national human rights commission.
20. Trevor Phillips and John Wadham, the EHRC's Group
Director Legal, strongly defended the EHRC's record of human rights
work. Mr Phillips described the human rights report as "important"
and argued that the inquiry process contributed to the EHRC's
accreditation as a national human rights institution.
I think that a balanced account of what we have
done would say that we have done a great deal. We would have liked
to have done more
We have written and published a simple
guide to human rights called Ours to Own. We have campaigned
on a series of issues and we have
pursued a number of key
cases, for example the Jason Smith case which guaranteed
protection for our troops on the frontline.
Mr Wadham said "we are delivering on our remit"
and cited interventions in legal cases, scrutiny of Government
policy in relation to international human rights treaties, and
other policy work in support of his assertion.
Human rights strategy
21. The human rights strategy is intended to show
how the EHRC will use its powers to discharge its human rights
duties in the 2009-12 period and also responds to the recommendations
of the human rights inquiry.
It identified five key outcomes which the Commission wishes to
achieve by 2012:
- no regression in law from the
levels of human rights protection and mechanisms for enforcement
under the Human Rights Act and other ratified human rights treaties;
- widespread awareness and accurate understanding
of human rights at all levels of society, including how they can
be used by individuals and applied by public, private and voluntary
- human rights mainstreamed into the work of at
least five of the most significant regulators, inspectorates and
complaints handling bodies;
- to have developed a credible and widely utilised
measurement framework for human rights and to have reported against
this framework in the Commission's triennial report to Parliament
about the state of equalities and human rights in the UK; and
- to have clearly influenced the concluding observations
of the bodies monitoring compliance with the UN Convention on
the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the UN
Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights
of Persons with Disabilities.
22. At the heart of the strategy lies a human rights
programme for 2009-12 consisting of 46 items of work. Some of
these are expressed in very general terms: for example, "we
will identify and promote good practice in the public sector"
and "we will build business and public awareness of the key
human rights issues in the private sector". Others reflect
work which is already underway, such as the commitment to respond
to the Government's Bill of Rights and Responsibilities Green
Paper, which was published in March 2009. Some of the commitments
- such as the EHRC's sponsorship of Guardian newspaper
roundtables to explore the findings of the human rights inquiry
- are likely to make a relatively minor contribution to the strategy's
23. The strategy contains few indications of timescales,
milestones or measures of success or effectiveness. It is also
unclear how the strategy relates to the EHRC's overall strategy
for 2009-12: the two strategies appear to be unconnected and it
is hard to see how they feed into each other. We note that several
human rights objectives and key deliverables which were included
in the overall strategy for 2009-12, such as the mapping of legal
advice provision on human rights issues in order to identify service
gaps and reference to ensuring greater respect for human rights
in the prison system, are not mentioned in the human rights strategy.
24. We asked why it had taken so long since the EHRC
was set up to publish such a vague list of human rights work priorities.
Mr Phillips suggested that the decision to proceed with a long
inquiry into human rights priorities before a strategy was drawn
up was due to the need to ensure that the board worked together
on this issue. Mr
Wadham said that the inquiry had been necessary to tap a "rich
seam of evidence" about the desirability of embedding human
rights in public sector work, which was now reflected in the strategy.
He argued that the strategy built on the recommendations of the
human rights inquiry and "sets out our overall high level
vision of the future about what we are going to do".
25. Kay Carberry, a continuing EHRC commissioner,
asserted that the Commission has been responsible for a "great
list of achievements".
We do not fully share this view. We have sometimes been frustrated
at the EHRC's lack of engagement in major human rights debates.
We heard nothing from the Commission on policing and protest,
for example, an issue with which we were engaged for a calendar
year from June 2008 and which was the subject of considerable
public debate, particularly after the G20 protests in April 2009.
We were also critical of the evidence we received from the EHRC
during our business and human rights inquiry, because it was limited
to equality matters, indicating a broader failure to integrate
effectively equality and human rights work.
26. As we indicated earlier, a key role for the EHRC
is to drive the creation of a human rights culture in the UK public
sector. This will inevitably be a long process: the EHRC cannot
possibly have been expected to transform the way in which public
services are delivered within the first two or three years of
its existence. In our view, however, the report of the EHRC's
human rights inquiry shows that the Commission had not begun systematically
to address this issue. The publication of a human rights strategy
is evidence that the EHRC is seeking to approach its responsibilities
for human rights matters on a more systematic basis than hitherto;
but, in our view, the Commission is not yet fulfilling the human
rights mandate set out in the Equality Act.
27. We note that the Human Rights Minister, Michael
Wills MP, is also sympathetic to this point of view. He told us
on 1 December 2009 that:
I do not think [the EHRC] are doing enough to
promote human rights and the Human Rights Act.
He also criticised the EHRC's human rights strategy
as being "too full of aspiration and too light on what I
would call concrete goals that can be delivered within a specified
These are strong criticisms from the Minister specifically
charged with overseeing human rights across Government and we
entirely agree with him.
28. Recently, we have noticed signs of improved performance
by the EHRC. We received a helpful memorandum in response to our
call for evidence on our legislative scrutiny priorities and the
EHRC has been more active than before in commenting on current
human rights issues, such as the retention of DNA information
by the police and allegations that the UK has been complicit in
the torture of terrorism suspects overseas. We welcome these signs
that the EHRC is getting its house in order and becoming a more
consistent and authoritative contributor to debates on human rights
matters. There is a long way for the EHRC to go, however, and
an important next step will be for the human rights strategy to
be redrafted to make it, as the Minister said, less aspirational
and more concrete. The Commission could also usefully engage
with the public in asking what its views are on human rights priorities,
which would help raise the EHRC's profile and target its work
on the most important issues. We recommend that the EHRC redraft
its human rights strategy so that it is more focused and includes
timescales, milestones and indicators of success. A revised strategy
should clarify how a stand alone human rights strategy relates
to the EHRC's overall strategy for 2009-12. The Commission should
ask for public views on the existing strategy now and aim to launch
its revised strategy later in 2010.
6 EHRC 22, section 4. Back
Our human rights strategy and programme of action 2009-12,
EHRC, Nov 09 (hereafter Human rights strategy) p4. National
human rights institutions are seen by the international human
rights monitoring bodies as being of particular importance in
the national implementation of human rights standards agreed amongst
states at the international level (the Paris Principles).There
is a formal system of accreditation of national human rights institutions
and a minimum set of criteria, including independence from Government,
which an institution must fulfil in order to be recognised as
Human Rights Inquiry: Report of the Equality and Human Rights
Commission, June 09 (hereafter Human rights inquiry)
Ibid, p12. Back
Ibid, p15. Back
Ibid, pp144, 146 and 148-49. Back
See paragraph 21. Back
Guardian, 5 Sep 09. Back
Two Years Making Changes, EHRC, October 2009. Back
Case for a Human Rights Commission, paragraph 93. Back
Ibid, paragraph 94. Back
Ibid, paragraph 96. Back
Eighteenth Report, Session 2005-06, The Human Rights of Older
People in Healthcare, HL Paper 156-I, HC 378-I and Seventh
Report, Session 2007-08, A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights
of Adults with Learning Disabilities, HL Paper 40-I, HC 73-I. Back
Human rights inquiry, p150. Back
Ev 93, paragraph 3.1. Back
Ev 94, paragraph 4.1. Back
Ev 90, paragraph 7. Back
Ev 73, paragraph 3. Back
Ev 76, paragraph 5. Back
Ev 93, paragraph 3.2. Back
Ev 94, paragraph 3.10. Back
Ev 76, paragraph 6. Back
Ev 90, paragraph 10. Back
Ev 86. Back
Ev 86, paragraphs 2-3. Back
Qq 6, 24. Back
Ev 70. Back
Ev 87. Back
Qq 173, 175. Back
Human rights strategy, p3. Back
Ibid, p6. Back
Qq 189-90. Back
First Report, 2009-10, Any of our business? Human Rights and
the UK private sector, Hl Paper 5-I, HC 64-I, chapter 9, especially
paragraph 280. Back
Second Report, 2009-10, Work of the Committee in 2008-09
(hereafter Annual Report 2008-09) Q (2.12.09) 18. Back
Ibid, Qq (2.12.09) 30-34. Back