Joint Committee on Human Rights press notice no. 24

Session 2006-07, 28 March 2007

Meaning of Public Authority under the Human Rights Act:


When the Human Rights Act was passed, the Government assured Parliament that bodies performing a public function, including bodies operating residential care homes and private prisons under privatisation or contracting out, would be subject to the duty to act compatibly with individual human rights. However, the courts have interpreted the meaning of a "public authority" under the Human Rights Act more narrowly than originally intended by Parliament.

This is vitally important for a range of vulnerable people in the UK, including elderly people in residential care homes, people living in housing association accommodation, and children in care, because they cannot enforce their rights directly.

Andrew Dismore, Chair of the Committee, said:

"Our report published today shows how the law has developed entirely at odds with the Government's and Parliament's stated aim of educating and protecting the public through the Human Rights Act.

"We are almost ten years into the life of the Act in the UK. In view of the continuing trend towards outsourcing public services and the continued failure to fill this gap in human rights protection for the most vulnerable people, this is now a matter of urgency."

The Committee argues that the uncertainty "creates the potential for significant inconsistencies and denies the protection of the rights it guarantees to those who need it most." They consider that Guidance issued by the Government on contracting for services and human rights is "badly written", "inaccessible" and "cannot have any significant impact on the protection of human rights".

The Committee calls on the Government to bring forward legislation to clarify the law and ensure protection is given to all, including vulnerable groups.

Andrew Dismore added: "I have given notice of a Private Member's Bill to clarify the law and I hope the Government will support it".


[Notes to editors:

1. The Chairman of the Committee, Andrew Dismore MP, is available for interview and contactable by pager on 07659 592094.

2. The Committee membership is given below.

3. The Committee's Report is its 9th Report of Session 2006-07, The Meaning of Public Authority under the Human Rights Act, House of Lords Paper 77/House of Commons Paper 410.

4. Media inquiries: Ms Jessica Bridges-Palmer: 020 7219 0724]

The report will be available from The Stationery Office (tel: 0870 600 5522), Parliamentary Hotline Lo-call 0845 7 023474, Email:, Internet:, TSO shops, The Parliamentary Bookshop, 12 Bridge Street, London SW1A 2JX (tel 020 7219 3890) and through good booksellers. It will also be on the Committee's website at the address below on the day of publication.


Mr Andrew Dismore MP (Labour, Hendon) (Chairman)
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie (Conservative)
Mr Douglas Carswell MP (Conservative, Harwich)
Lord Judd (Labour)
Nia Griffith MP (Labour, Llanelli)
Lord Lester of Herne Hill (Liberal Democrat)
Dr Evan Harris MP (Liberal Democrat, Oxford West & Abingdon)
The Earl of Onslow (Conservative)
Mr Richard Shepherd MP (Conservative, Aldridge-Brownhills)
Lord Plant of Highfield (Labour)
Mark Tami MP (Labour, Alyn and Deeside)
Baroness Stern (Cross-Bencher)

Clerks of the Committee: Mr Nick Walker (House of Commons) 020 7219 2797 and Mr Bill Sinton (House of Lords) 020 7219 5358

ENQUIRIES: 020 7219 2797/2467 FAX: 020 7219 8393 E-MAIL:


MEDIA INQUIRIES: Ms Jessica Bridges-Palmer: 020 7219 0724