Concerns raised over Equality and Human Rights Commission

15 March 2010

In a report published today, Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights raises concerns about the human rights work and leadership of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

The Committee considers the short human rights strategy published in November 2009 by the ERHC to be "too vague" and recommends that a more detailed version should be published later in 2010, after public consultation.

Although the JCHR notes that the EHRC is now approaching its human rights work more systematically, the Committee concludes that the Commission is not yet fulfilling the human rights mandate set out in the Equality Act.

The Committee was concerned to hear of criticisms made by a number of former commissioners, some of whom resigned in 2009, about the way the body was led by Trevor Phillips. These included;

  • the board of commissioners was not functioning as a corporate body
  • commissioners felt intimated if they held the Chair to account for his actions
  • there were perceived conflicts of interest between Mr Phillips’ involvement with a private consultancy firm and his position as Chair of the EHRC

These allegations are contested by continuing commissioners.

In the Committee’s view, merging the three previous equality bodies and developing a strong corporate board for the new EHRC was a challenging task. This was not done successfully, for which the Chair must bear responsibility.

The Committee argues that the reappointment of the Chair and Deputy Chair of the EHRC should 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 decision simply to reappoint Mr Phillips without any parliamentary involvement could undermine the perceived independence of the Commission.

The Committee also notes that the Comptroller and Auditor General qualified the Commission’s 2006-08 accounts, raising questions about the EHRC’s management. The JCHR considers it unacceptable that the EHRC continues to operate without a chief executive.

Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

"We remain convinced that the UK needs an Equality and Human Rights Commission. No one expected the Commission to transform the way public services are delivered, or attitudes to human rights in the UK, in its early existence, but we are concerned that the EHRC has not done enough, well enough, on human rights issues.

"The vague human rights strategy published by the EHRC was a disappointment. It appears to have been drafted in haste and is very general in its content.

"Major questions remain over the leadership of the EHRC. We regret that the reappointment of the Chair was not subject to open competition. We were disappointed to hear about perceived conflicts between Mr Phillips and a number of commissioners, well respected in their fields, who resigned.

"The lack of a cohesive board has undoubtedly impacted on the EHRC’s work. It cannot function effectively without a permanent chief executive and the long delay in making this key appointment is unacceptable, and costly. As Mr Phillips has been re-appointed he has the chance to demonstrate that he can work with others and establish the EHRC on a firm footing for the future."

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