The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has promised to “increase and extend” its human rights work, following stinging criticism by a committee of MPs and peers.
In a new report, the joint select committee on human rights (JCHR) said the commission’s human rights strategy was “vague” and “a disappointment” and appeared to have been “drafted in haste”.
And it said the EHRC was not yet doing enough to promote human rights and the Human Rights Act.
The report also says “major questions remain” over EHRC chair Trevor Phillips, following a series of resignations by commissioners concerned at his leadership of the EHRC board.
Two disabled commissioners, Baroness [Jane] Campbell and Sir Bert Massie, were among those who resigned last summer.
Baroness Campbell told the committee in her written evidence that there had been a “divisive culture” on the board and Phillips’ “conduct and approach” as chair had been “severely damaging to the EHRC”.
Sir Bert said in his evidence: “I found it extremely disturbing that we could not function as commissioners. Our skills were not being used, our expertise was not being used and we could not influence the agenda.”
He said the EHRC had failed to take up the agenda developed by the Disability Rights Commission and had not allocated sufficient resources to disability. Similar views were expressed by Baroness Campbell.
Both Sir Bert and Baroness Campbell said the EHRC had done too little on human rights.
Baroness Campbell said the commission’s human rights work had been marginalised “due to the chair’s constant consistent lack of appreciation of the importance and effectiveness of the Human Rights Act”.
An EHRC spokesman said it had “addressed many of the concerns about its governance and management”, and criticisms of Phillips by Sir Bert, Baroness Campbell and three other former commissioners were “rejected” by two commissioners who gave evidence alongside Phillips, Kay Carberry and Jeannie Drake.
He said the commission had partly accepted criticism of its human rights work, and added: “None of us has ever said our work on human rights was as good as it could be or should be and we got off to a slow start.
“The problem is they do not take into account a lot of work we have done in the last six months. Hopefully we have turned a corner.”
He pointed to “significant human rights achievements”, including work to protect the rights of people in private care homes, raising concerns about the use of body scanners at airports, and a new inquiry into disability hate crime.
He said the commission “fully intends to increase and extend its activities in the area of human rights and looks forward to working with the JCHR in doing so”, and would shortly publish a work plan which will flesh out its human rights strategy.
16 March 2010