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 fully:
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 vulnerable adults.
4. Investigations into deaths of people under protection of the state are not always independent, prompt or public, potentially breaching right to life investigative requirements.
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.
8. Counter-terrorism and public order legislation designed to protect everyone can risk undermining several human rights.
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.
10. Immigration 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.”