JCHR Press Notice No. 11

19 March 2003    Session 2002-03


A Human Rights Commision:Structure, Functions and Powers

CONSULTATION

Following the publication on 19 March 2003 of its Report on The Case for a Human Rights Commission,(FN1) the Joint Committee on Human Rights will be giving further consideration to the details of the structure, functions and powers of the independent body for the promotion and protection of human rights it proposes in that Report.

The Committee would welcome further submissions on these matters.  In particular, it invites responses to the following questions.

1. The Committee has concluded that there is a need for an independent body charged with promoting and protecting human rights in England and Wales and that, in the context of the Government's proposal to establish a new single equality body, its preferred option would be for this function to be discharged by an integrated human rights and equality commission. How do you think this function would best fit with the three options proposed by the Government for a single equality body (a single integrated body, a "single gateway", or an "overarching commission")? FN2

2. If the option of two separate bodies for human rights and equality was preferred, what functions and powers relating to the protection of human rights (beyond the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equality of opportunity) do you think it would be desirable or necessary for the single equality body to have, if any? FN3

3. In the light of the existence of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the intention to establish Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Committee has concluded that the body it proposes should be principally concerned with promoting and protecting human rights in England and Wales. It has also concluded that it will also be necessary to have a body co-ordinating the promotion and protection of human rights at a UK-wide level (to which it has given the provisional title of the UK Advisory Council on Human Rights).  What, in your view, should be the composition of this UK-wide body? What functions and duties should it have, and what funding would it require?  How should  it be held to account? FN4

4. The Committee has concluded that the following functions and powers would be central to the work of the independent human rights body which it proposes.

- To promote understanding and awareness of human rights (including not only Convention rights but also rights embodied in international human rights instruments which bind the UK);

- to conduct and commission research and provide financial or other assistance for educational activities in connection with promoting understanding and awareness of human rights;

- to conduct inquiries into matters of public policy and practice relating to human rights;

- to give guidance to, and promote best practice in, public authorities in relation to human rights;

- to offer guidance and advice to Ministers and to Parliament in connection with human rights;

- to publish reports on any of the above matters;

- to assist in the provision of advice and assistance to members of the public on ways to find help to protect, assert  or vindicate their rights;

- to support and promote access to alternatives to litigation in disputes relating to the protection of human rights;

- to apply to the courts for permission to appear as amicus curiae in proceedings that involve or are concerned with human rights; and

- to intervene as a third party in legal proceedings relating to questions of principle involving human rights.

Do you agree that this list includes all those  powers and functions which it would be essential for the commission to have, and none that are unnecessary? Do you have any advice to offer on how any of these individual functions or powers should be given effect in detail? FN5

5. The Committee wishes to consider further whether it would be desirable for the independent body it proposes to have the following powers and functions.

- To provide assistance (including financial assistance) to individuals to take test cases relating to Convention rights questions;

- to be able to take cases in its own name where a victim of a breach of Convention rights cannot be identified;

- to apply for judicial review in its own name in relation to questions connected with human rights.

Do you have any views on the desirability or otherwise of giving these powers to the proposed commission?  Do you have any advice to offer on how any of these individual functions or powers should be given effect in detail, or on what restrictions might appropriately be applied to the exercise of them? FN6

6. The Committee has concluded that the Commission should be accountable to Parliament rather than the Government. It has outlined a number of options for how the line of accountability would work.  Do you have any views on the details of how the Commission would be held accountable and how its budget would be determined? Is your view affected by whether or not the body is an integrated human rights and equality commission? FN7

7. The Committee has concluded that there should be some form of a statutory requirement to consult Parliament on the appointment of commissioners to the new body.  How do you think the commissioners should be appointed? Is your view affected by whether or not the body is an integrated human rights and equality commission? FN8

8. If the option of a fully integrated body was chosen, the Committee notes that commissioners could be appointed to represent particular "strands" of the body's work (age, disability, human rights, race, religion, sex discrimination, sexual orientation, etc.) or for particular functions (outreach, research, litigation, advice, etc.). Do you have any view on a preferred option for the allocation of functions?   Do you have any view on the balance between part-time and full-time commissioners?  Is your view affected by whether or not the body is an integrated human rights and equality commission? FN9

Footnotes

1.  Sixth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2002-03, The Case for a Human Rights Commission, HL Paper 67/ HC 489, see  http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/joint_committee_on_human_rights.cfm, published by The Stationery Office.

2.  Before answering this question, you are asked to look at the discussion of institutional options set out in paragraphs 190 to 204 of the Committee's report, cited at footnote 1 above, and at  Equality and Diversity: Making it happen, published by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Home Office, Women & Equality Unit and the Department for Work and Pensions, October 2002, chapters 7, 8 and 9.

3.  Before answering this question, you are asked to look at the discussion of the relationship between the promotion of equality and the  promotion and protection of human rights set out in paragraphs 168 to 204 of  of the Committee's report, cited at footnote 1 above.

4.  Before answering this question, you are asked to look at the discussion of the devolution/UK issues set out in paragraphs 206 to 220 of the Committee's report, cited at footnote 1 above, and at the consultation paper The Scottish Human Rights Commission, The Scottish Executive, The Stationery Office, February 2003.

5. Before answering this question, you are asked to look at the discussion of these powers set out in paragraphs 106 to 166 of the Committee's report, cited at footnote 1 above.

6. Before answering this question, you are asked to look at the discussion of these powers set out in paragraphs 146 to 165 of the Committee's report, cited at footnote 1 above.

7.  Before answering this question, you are asked to look at the discussion of accountability and resources in paragraphs 222 to 225 of the Committee's report, cited at footnote 1 above.

8.  Before answering this question, you are asked to look at the discussion of accountability and resources in paragraphs 222 to 225 of the Committee's report, cited at footnote 1 above.

9.  Before answering this question, you are asked to look at the discussion of allocation of functions in paragraphs 231 and 232 of the Committee's report, cited at footnote 1 above.

Responses to this consultation should be submitted to Paul Evans, Commons Clerk of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Committee Office, House of Commons, London SWlA 0AA / E-mail [email protected] A single, signed hard copy accompanied by an electronic version (which may be sent as an email attachment), is preferred. Responses should if possible arrive by 1 May 2003.

Submissions may be printed or circulated by the Committee at any stage.  You may publicise or publish your evidence yourself, but in doing so you must indicate that it was prepared for the Committee.  Evidence published other than under the authority of the Committee does not attract Parliamentary privilege.