Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC)
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Commission publishes human rights review

The Commission today publishes a landmark review of how well public authorities deliver human rights protection and promotion in England and Wales. It is the second report in the 'How Fair is Britain?' series.

The review concludes that people in England and Wales have their human rights upheld in many ways. But more could be done to improve human rights protections for some – including people using care services and victims of crime. It says that the core principles of human rights – dignity, equality and respect for everyone – should get more emphasis.

The review shows that many public authorities have a good track record in using human rights principles to protect the public. As a result, people are by and large able to live the lives that they choose and may take their human rights for granted. They can start families, vote in elections, express their social or political views and practise their religion. These are just some of the human rights protected by law.

However, the review also finds that some public authorities are not using human rights principles as much as they could to protect people. Some of the problems highlighted include the abuse of vulnerable people in care; misuse of personal data by the state; treating victims of human trafficking as criminals; threats to the right to peaceful protest; and lack of support for some victims of crime.

The review measures government’s progress against human rights standards in areas where it has to make difficult policy decisions. Those around national security and immigration, for example, take into account a range of human rights issues.

The Commission says that putting human rights principles into public service practice is in the public interest. The evidence shows that public bodies taking human rights seriously treat people better. The law already expects public bodies to do this and taking a ‘human rights approach’ can be cost effective.

The report singles out examples of good practice including:

  • Northumbria Police considers the human rights of victims in the way it handles incidents of domestic violence. It focuses on the victim’s safety, protecting their children and managing the behaviour of the offender. Officers deal with incidents as domestic violence instead of breaches of the peace. It supports victims until the risk of domestic violence is reduced or removed.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support uses human rights to improve the experience of cancer care for patients. A set of dignity principles for cancer treatment staff were shaped by the views of cancer patients, carers and health professionals. These include keeping people informed about their treatment, making them comfortable and asking what name to call them. Staff say this empowers them to challenge practices and patients say it makes a difference.
  • Very few local authority contracts for home care specify that the provider must comply with the Human Rights Act. Evidence given to the Commission’s inquiry into home care indicates that embedding human rights into home care provision – from commissioning to service delivery – results in high quality care without necessarily increasing costs.

Geraldine Van Bueren, Commissioner, Equality and Human Rights Commission said:

'Britain has a long and passionate commitment to human rights. Because of this commitment, most people in Britain can live their lives as they wish to, free from government control or interference. However, we cannot take our rights for granted.

'All of us benefit from human rights because these improve our daily lives. Human rights should not only get our attention when people we might not like try to use these rights. Nor should the value of human rights be limited to when we see what happens to people in other countries when these rights do not exist.'

Ends

For more press information, case studies or interview requests contact the Commission’s media office on 020 3117 0255, out of hours 07767 272 818. For general enquiries please contact the Commission’s national helpline: England 0845 604 6610, Scotland 0845 604 5510 or Wales 0845 604 8810.

Notes to editors

  • A panel of experts will discuss the review’s findings on Monday 5 March 2012 at 2:00pm. It will take place at Church House, Deans Yard, Westminster, London SW1P 3NZ. Please confirm attendance with the press office.
  • Electronic copies of “How Fair is Britain? An assessment of how well public authorities protect human rights” will be available from Monday 5 March: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/humanrightsreview
  • In gathering the evidence for the review, the Equality and Human Rights Commission consulted extensively with non-government organisations, human rights specialists and legal and policy experts as well as consulting government departments. The report was reviewed and quality assured by academic and legal experts before publication.
  • The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 set out the fundamental rights and freedoms shared by all human beings. This declaration formed the basis for the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950, which British lawyers helped to draft. The Human Rights Act 1998 made these human rights part of UK law. Find out more about how human rights work in practice.

The Commission is a statutory body established under the Equality Act 2006. It took over the responsibilities of Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Rights Commission and Equal Opportunities Commission. It aims to reduce inequality, eliminate discrimination, strengthen good relations between people, and promote and protect human rights. The Commission enforces equality legislation on age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, and encourages compliance with the Human Rights Act. It also gives advice and guidance to businesses, the voluntary and public sectors, and to individuals.

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