Equality and Human Rights Commission - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Human rights vision

1.  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. (Paragraph 15)

Human rights strategy

2.  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. (Paragraph 26)

3.  We agree entirely with the strong criticisms of the human rights Minister that the EHRC's human rights strategy is "too full of aspiration and too light on what I would call concrete goals that can be delivered within a specified time frame". (Paragraph 27)

4.  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. 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. (Paragraph 28)

Leadership of the Commission

5.  In our view, merging three equality bodies and developing a strong corporate board for the new body, making use of the expertise and talents of all commissioners, are challenging tasks and we conclude that in the early years of the EHRC's existence this was not done successfully, for which the Chair must bear responsibility. (Paragraph 48)

The new EHRC board

6.  We have no strong view on the size of the EHRC board and can see the advantages of a larger board, if it can be led effectively. We are concerned, however, that the Minister has not taken action to broaden the political background of commissioners, in line with the Deloitte recommendation. The EHRC operates in a political environment, dealing with issues which are often the focus of national debate. Commissioners should include people affiliated to all of the main parties, as well as those without party affiliations. In our view, the Commission's credibility across the political spectrum would be enhanced if it included at least one commissioner with links to the Conservative Party. (Paragraph 52)

Reappointment of Mr Phillips

7.  In our view, the reappointment of the Chair and Deputy Chair of the EHRC should on this occasion have been subject to open competition, to help restore confidence in the organisation and its leadership following the well-publicised difficulties the EHRC faced in 2009. The Minister's decision simply to reappoint Mr Phillips without any parliamentary involvement could undermine the perceived independence of the Commission and put its accreditation as a national human rights institution at risk. (Paragraphs 56 and 57)

8.  Although our strong preference remains for the appointment of EHRC commissioners to be taken out of the hands of ministers, we regret that the Human Rights Minister was not more closely involved in the decision to reappoint the Chair on this occasion. If Ministers are to decide who should Chair the EHRC, the Human Rights Minister should be involved. (Paragraph 58)

9.  We recommend that the appropriate select committees should be informed by the Government whenever the holder of a post subject to pre-appointment hearings is reappointed. (Paragraph 59)

The position of chief executive

10.  The recruitment of Dr Brewer's successor appears to have proceeded at a leisurely pace even before the Government's late intervention to query the salary expectations of candidates led to the competition being suspended, apparently until after the next Budget. There is every possibility that the post will have to be re-advertised and that the appointment of a new chief executive will be further delayed. It is unacceptable for a body of the size and significance of the EHRC to operate without a permanent chief executive for as long as eight months and with there seemingly being no prospect of an appointment being made until much later in 2010, especially given the costly interim arrangements. (Paragraph 66)

The Equate consultancy

11.  We welcome the fact that Mr Phillips has now relinquished his controlling share in the Equate consultancy. It would appear, however, that it took some time before Mr Phillips was persuaded to take the action necessary to address the perception of a conflict of interest caused by his involvement with Equate. We regret that he did not terminate his involvement with Equate when the issue was first raised by Dr Brewer. We again suggest to Mr Phillips that his personal website should be amended to remove references to the Equate consultancy. (Paragraphs 76 and 77)

Departmental responsibility

12.  We recognise the claims of other departments [than the GEO to sponsor the EHRC] and recommend that deciding which department has responsibility for the EHRC should be a first order issue when machinery of government changes are contemplated. It is not acceptable for human rights to be an afterthought, as it sometimes appears to have been in the past. We believe that the Minister for Human Rights and the sponsoring department for the EHRC should be situated in the same place. (Paragraph 81)


13.  We regret that Mr Phillips' reappointment was not subject to open competition. Parliament should have been given the opportunity properly to scrutinise the Commission's performance under his leadership. As a consequence of his reappointment, Mr Phillips is now in a position to demonstrate that he can work with others and establish the EHRC on a firm footing. (Paragraph 85)

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