[Reports] How fair is Britain? The Equality and Human Rights Commission launches Human Rights Review 2012
The Equality and Human
Rights Commission (EHRC), the statutory body established under the Equality Act
2006 with a remit to monitor and promote human rights and equality in Great
Britain, launched today the Human Rights Review 2012. This landmark document,
as the Chief Executive of the EHRC described it, follows on from the Triennial
Review "How fair is Britain?" of October 2010 (more information on that 2010
report is available here).
The video of today's
launch event in London is available here.
As the Commission's Lead Commissioner for Human Rights, Prof. Geraldine Van
Bueren, noted in her keynote address (available in the video we just linked to), the Human
Rights Review 2012 "gives us for the first time a clear picture of the human
rights situation in England and Wales using statistics, individuals'
experiences and the works of many organizations."
You can read the Executive
Summary and also download the full Review chapter-by-chapter here. The Review assesses
how well Britain is meeting its human rights obligations under the European
Convention of Human Rights and its own Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) which gives
effect to the Convention.
- It sets out the
rights and freedoms protected in the Convention, and assesses to what extent
each is enjoyed by people living in Britain today.
- It looks at how UK
laws, institutions and institutional processes support and protect each right.
- It highlights the
many ways in which the protection of human rights in Britain has been
strengthened in recent years by law, policy and practice.
-It also, however,
exposes some key areas where the EHRC believes serious human rights problems
could be better tackled and protections ensured.
As to the very last
point, the Review (and the Executive Summary) identify ten areas where
legislation, institutions, policy or services could protect human rights more
1. Health and social
care commissioners and service providers do not always understand their human rights
obligations and the regulator's approach is not always effective in identifying
and preventing human rights abuses.
I find this shortcoming very interesting from an administrative law perspective because it reflects the
debate (quite salient in the UK) on the application of public values, especially
human rights protections, on the private sector providing important services.
As the Executive Summary points out, the reason for this first problem it
identifies "may lie partly with the scope of the HRA and agencies' poor understanding
of their HRA responsibilities. People who receive health or social care from private
or voluntary sector providers do not have the same guaranteed level of direct protection
under the HRA as those receiving it from public bodies. However, their rights may
be protected indirectly as the public authorities that commission health and
social care services from independent providers have positive obligations to
promote and protect the human rights of individual service users. Yet the
Commission's recent inquiry into home care showed that many local authorities
and primary care trusts have a poor understanding of their positive obligations
under the HRA and do not include human rights in the commissioning criteria
around the quality and delivery of care."
The Lead Commissioner also
highlighted this point in her keynote address quoted above noting that "84% of
publicly funded care that is delivered by the private and voluntary sectors is
not covered by this essential human rights protection."
The other areas in
which the Review suggests public authorities could be doing more are:
2. The justice system
does not always prioritize the best interests of the child.
3. Police custody and
prisons do not always have sufficient safeguards and support when dealing with
4. Investigations into
deaths of people under protection of the state are not always independent,
prompt or public, potentially breaching right to life investigative
5. Providing a system
of legal aid is a significant part of how Britain meets its obligations to
protect the right to a free trial and the right to liberty and security.
Changes to legal aid provision run the risk of weakening this.
6. The legislative and
regulatory framework does not offer sufficient protection of the right to a private
life and for balancing the right to a private life with other rights.
7. The human rights of
some groups are not always fully protected.
and public order legislation designed to protect everyone can risk undermining several
9. Allegations of
involvement and complicity in torture in overseas territories, and the
government's failure so far to carry out an independent inquiry into these allegations,
risk breaching Article 3.
procedures can favor administrative convenience over safeguarding individuals'
rights to liberty and security. Periods in detention can be unlawful if release
or removal is not imminent.
Another reason why
this report is particularly interesting is that it is timely. To use the language
of the Review itself: "[T]he long running debate about the effectiveness of the
HRA led the Coalition Government to set up an independent Commission on a Bill
of Rights in March 2011 which will report by the end of 2012. In early 2012,
the government also announced its views on the need for reform of the European
Court of Human Rights. This review is thus all the more timely in assessing the
government and public authorities' compliance with the Convention, and the
benefits of doing so for everyone in Britain. The Commission's 2009 Human Rights
Inquiry found that a human rights approach could contribute to better service planning
and delivery by focusing on the needs of individuals using public services. [The
2012 review] demonstrates that Britain's human rights framework has contributed
much to the better working of government and public services, and to the
ability of citizens to protect their rights."