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Volume 12 Number 2
New Delhi, Summer 2005

White Paper on Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Justin Foxworthy
CHRI London Office

Francesca Klug, a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) – set up to advise it on proposals for the Commission, welcomed the publication of the White Paper: “Until now Britain has stuck out like a sore thumb as one of a small minority of countries world-wide without any national human rights body. Today marks the beginning of the end of this distinction.”

Under provisions established by the 1998 Human Rights Act, individuals were free to pursue cases of human rights abuse through the courts but a statutory body to promote widespread understanding of, or compliance with, the principles established by these cases did not exist.

Expected to begin work in 2006, the CEHR will become the first legal body in Britain with a mandate to promote human rights and equality. The Commission is designed to work with other agencies in order to ensure that public institutions comply with existing equalities and human rights legislation and take a standardised approach to best practices.

The human rights powers proposed for the Commission outlined in the White Paper include:

  • to promote human rights to all bodies, including private, voluntary and charitable organisations, which provide public services;
  • to provide to individuals seeking advice on legal services through an integrated help desk;
  • to provide an express power to intervene in human rights court cases to promote an understanding of human rights values and standards to the courts;
  • to provide an express power to carry out statutory enquiries into any broad human rights issue;
  • to provide public education on human rights standards and values;
  • to promote working with schools on human rights aspects of the citizenship curriculum;
  • to review the Human Rights Act and advise government and other policy makers on compliance with it.

The new Commission will have the remit to push human rights on the public agenda and to use court actions to advance issues it deems important. Under powers of ‘general enquiry’, the Commission will be able to help to tackle systemic or not well known cases of abuses including, the elderly in care homes, school bullying, harassment and discrimination against people with disabilities.

However, the JCHR has raised some questions regarding the precise nature of the duties to be placed upon the Commission in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights. The primary concerns of the JCHR include the power of the Commission to conduct ‘general inquiries’ into matters of equality and human rights, support individual court cases, create dispute resolution mechanisms, seek judicial reviews of public authorities under the Human Rights Act as well as institutional and funding arrangements of the new body. The JCHR expects to continue to work with the Government to address these remaining areas of difference before the passage of legislation establishing the Commission.

Despite these questions, the Commission should be able to provide significant assistance to individuals who experience discrimination and human rights abuses in their daily lives. The Commission is also expected to work closely with community groups at the local level .

CHRI Newsletter, Summer 2005

Editors: Vaishali Mishra & Clare Doube, CHRI;
Print: Anshu Tejpal,
Web Developer: Swayam Mohanty, CHRI.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to all contributors

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The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) is an independent international NGO mandated to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth.