JCHR Press Notice 03-04 No. 13

Session 2003-04                                            27 February 2004

Forthcoming Publication

The Meaning of "Public Authority" under the Human Rights Act

The Seventh Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights of Session 2003-04, on  The Meaning of "Public Authority" under the Human Rights Act will be published on Wednesday 3 March 2004, as House of Lords Paper 39/House of Commons Paper 382.

The Report arises from the way in which the Human Rights Act makes it unlawful for public authorities in this country to act in breach of the fundamental rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.  This protection was intended to be comprehensive, and the obligation to act compatibly with the Convention was to apply to all those discharging the public functions of the State. The report considers a possible flaw in the design of the Human Rights Act, which may have the potential to undermine the protection it was intended to offer to everyone within the jurisdiction of the UK.

Section 6 of the Act defines two types of "public authority" to which those obligations apply-"pure" public authorities, which must act compatibly in all they do, and "functional" authorities which come under this obligation only when discharging a "public function". This report examines the case law that has so far developed in respect of the interpretation of "public function".

The concern addressed in the report is that a narrow judicial view of the meaning of "public authority" under of the Human Rights Act means that many private and voluntary sector providers of public services are considered to fall outside the scope of the Act, with no obligation to comply with the rights and freedoms it incorporated into domestic law.

The report examines the potential consequences of this failure. It considers alternative approaches to closing the gap in protection which has been opened, and to reducing the potential for further loss of protection.

The Report will be available on the internet at the address below from approximately 3pm on the day of publication.