The NIHRC Blog #6

Home » News

Today, Reclaim the Agenda and Women’s Aid held a demonstration in Belfast to fight the two child limit on certain social security benefits. Human rights is increasingly to the fore in the legal battle against regressive social security policies introduced under the guise of welfare reform. The two child limit applies to child tax credit and universal credit, and restricts the child element in both benefits to two children for new claims where a third or subsequent child is born after 6 April 2017.

The Child Poverty Action Group in Britain has launched a judicial review to challenge the two child limit on the grounds of disproportionately interfering with the rights of parents and children under Article 8 of the ECHR (the right to family and private life) and freedom from discrimination. The latter challenge is based on the policy discriminating against children with multiple siblings and those who are morally opposed to contraception and/or abortion on grounds of religious belief. The proceedings embrace international human rights law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Article 3 (‘the best interests of the child’ principle) and Article 26 (the right to social security).

The role of UNCRC has already come under legal scrutiny in earlier challenges to the introduction of an overall benefit cap. In R (SG and others) in 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the original overall benefit cap of £23,000 a year. The Court held by majority that the benefit cap was not in line with Article 3 of the UNCRC, but held by a different majority that this was not relevant to the question of whether there was unjustified discrimination against the social security rights of the mother as the claimant. In effect: a narrow escape for the government.

The overall benefit cap has now been further reduced to £20,000 a year. A successful legal challenge was made in the High Court in Britain in June 2017. In DA and others, the High Court held the overall cap was unlawful in being applied to lone parents with a youngest child under two years of age. In particular, the court ruled that Article 8 (the right to family life) and Article 1, Protocol 1 (the right to enjoyment of possessions including social security benefits) were engaged, and that UNCRC Article 3 could be taken into account in interpreting the ECHR. Applying this, the court subsequently held that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions had failed to have regard to the best interests of the child principle and this amounted to discriminatory and unjustifiable treatment of such claimants. The judgement was forthright in its criticism of the policy rationale for the overall cap, holding that ‘real misery is being caused to no good purpose’.

The Department for Work and Pensions has appealed the judgement and issued guidance to continue to apply the benefit cap to lone parents with children under two despite it being in breach of human rights. Anyone affected by this decision in Northern Ireland should lodge an appeal now rather than wait for the outcome of the case. A separate challenge to the overall benefit cap for lone parents with children over two has also been launched by CPAG (in DS and others).

Returning to the two child policy, a similar rationale to the benefit cap has been invoked by government i.e. the need to encourage claimants into work alongside making claimants face the same financial choices that working families have to make about the size of a family. The policy amounts to a blunt instrument paying no heed to the myriad of circumstances in which working age families can find themselves in or out of work. The provision is fraught with contradictions effectively acting as a disincentive for lone parents with children to come together and form a new relationship in a single household or for couples without children to take on kinship care responsibilities.

With Northern Ireland having larger families than elsewhere in the UK, the policy will have a greater impact. One specific issue locally, is the rape exemption clause. Under the Criminal Law Act (NI) 1967, it is a criminal offence for individuals to fail to report knowledge of crime thereby placing third party assessors and claimants in an insidious position in seeking to report and verify the exemption. The NI Association of Social Workers and many other organisations have taken up this issue.

In practice, any legal challenge locally should concentrate on the wider impact of the two child policy rather than the problems with the limited exemptions. The two child policy and the new overall benefit cap illustrate the important role human rights can play in challenging the efficacy and impact of such policies. It also illustrates why the inclusion of the principle of defining social security as a human right is such a welcome inclusion in the Social Security (Scotland) Bill.

The Commission is interested in hearing from any claimants either already or likely to be affected by the policy.


21 Sep 2017

NIHRC hosts Film Festival at Culture Night Belfast

Home » News

​The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is taking part in this year’s Culture Night Belfast, set to take place on Friday 22nd September.

The Commission will host an Outdoor Mini Human Rights Film Festival in Writer’s Square as part of the annual celebrations, which usually attracts around 80,000 people to Belfast.

The Film Festival will feature films made by the Commission in partnership with a variety of organisations and individuals - including Simon Community NI, Barnardo’s, Women’s Aid, the Law Centre NI, Migrant Help and Carers NI. Also featured are Haptik Coffee & Art; 2013 Winner of the Voice UK, Andrea Begley; Irish Paralympic Gold Medalist Athlete, Michael McKillop; and Andy Allen MLA, in the films which address issues such as homelessness, the rights of persons with disabilities, and carers’ rights.

The Mini Film Festival will kick off with a preview of a film made with young people from the Prince’s Trust earlier in 2017, examining young people’s experiences of mental health.

The Festival will run from 4pm to 8pm just behind the Commission building in Writer’s Square.

For more information, please contact: zara.porter@nihrc.org


18 Sep 2017

United Nations Raises Concern for People with Disabilities

Home » News

Concern over the levels of protection offered to people with disabilities in Northern Ireland has been expressed by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Committee released its report today examining the UK Government’s and N.I Assembly’s record in fulfilling its commitments under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Committee’s Concluding Observations address key gaps in the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The areas of concern in Northern Ireland were highlighted to the Committee by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Committee who together form the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland with a role to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the Convention by the Northern Ireland Government.

Commenting on the report, NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, said:

“The impact of social security reforms has led to a finding by the UN Committee of grave and systematic violations of the right to an adequate standard of living and social protection, the right to live independently and the right to employment across the UK. We welcome the call for a cumulative impact assessment of the effect of the reforms to date and future proposals.

We share the communities’ concerns at the lack of effective participation of people with disabilities in decision making processes. The Assembly and Executive could do more to involve people with disabilities when developing policy and law and have at times failed to keep to the principle of ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’. The absence of a Northern Ireland disability strategy is a real concern. Today’s report provides a set of strong recommendations which aim to improve the living conditions and address the legal and practical challenges faced by people with disabilities in Northern Ireland.”

ECNI Chief Commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow said:

“The Committee has highlighted the fact that disabled people in Northern Ireland have less legal protection from discrimination than disabled people in Great Britain. It has recommended that Government takes the necessary measures to ensure that there is reform of disability rights law to reflect the recommendations made by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland in 2012. This is necessary to protect people with disabilities in Northern Ireland from direct and indirect disability-based discrimination and discrimination through association”.

“Our submission to the Committee also drew attention to the need to mitigate the adverse impacts of welfare reform on disabled people in Northern Ireland. So we welcome the U.N. Committee’s recommendation that the current time-limited package of mitigation measures addressing the adverse impacts of social security reform should be extended.”

“The failures identified by the U.N. Committee are reflective of serious concerns raised by the Equality Commission, with the Northern Ireland Executive and recently to the U.N. Committee.”

Further information:

Download the U.N. Committee’s Concluding Observations Report (pdf)

Please contact:

NIHRC - Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987) or 07717 731873

ECNI - Christina Martin on: (028 9089 0861) or out of hours 07715 476186.

Notes to editors:

1. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities report on the UK and devolved administrations which can be accessed here

The report made a number of recommendations for the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly:

• Collect information and adopt a strategic and measurable plan of action for improving the living conditions of all persons with disabilities, including in close cooperation with authorities in Northern Ireland.

• Take the necessary measures through the appropriate authorities to ensure that the Northern Ireland Executive reform on disability rights law reflects the recommendations made by Equality Commission for Northern Ireland in its 2012 Strengthening Protection for Disabled People report, to protect persons with disabilities in Northern Ireland from direct and indirect disability-based discrimination and discrimination through association.

• Address the high suicide rate among persons with disabilities, especially persons with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities.

• Ensure sufficient budget allocation for local authorities to accomplish their responsibilities regarding assistance for persons with disabilities, and extend support packages to mitigate negative impacts of the social security reform in Northern Ireland.

2. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission are jointly designated as the Independent Mechanism for Northern Ireland (IMNI) with a role to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the Convention by the Northern Ireland Government. Watch a short video on this joint work.

3. In August 2017 the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission made a number of recommendations to the UN Committee on what improvements needed to be made for disabled people in Northern Ireland. They presented their findings to the UN Committee examination in Geneva. They also contributed to the Disability Rights in the UK report which was been produced by the United Kingdom Independent Mechanism (UKIM). Access the Report here

4. IMNI assisted the CRPD Committee in carrying out the Northern Ireland leg of an inquiry, under the optional protocol of the Convention, into the impact of employment, social security and welfare policies on disabled people in the UK during 2015. Access here (pdf)


01 Sep 2017

Appointment of New Human Rights Commissioners

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission today welcomes the announcement of six new Commissioners by the Secretary of State Rt. Hon James Brokenshire MP. Helen Ferguson, Helena Macormac, Paul Mageean, Samuel John McCallister, Edmond Rooney and Graham Shields are part time appointments and will join the full time Chief Commissioner and staff in September 2017.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, said:

I am delighted on behalf of the Commission to welcome these appointments. The new Commissioners join us at a crucial period. The protection and promotion of human rights is vital in these uncertain political times.

In October we will be challenging Northern Ireland’s Termination of pregnancy laws at the Supreme Court. We will also release our investigation findings into Traveller accommodation in the coming months. The Commission works across many sectors and areas to promote and embed a culture of human rights including with the Business sector, the Civil Service and local people through our community engagement visits throughout Northern Ireland.

We look forward to working in September with the new Commissioners to carry forward our existing work and to setting new future priorities to protect and promote the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland.”

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin: (028) 9024 3987 (office), 0771 7731873 (mobile).

Notes to editors

1. Read more about the new Commissioner appointments here.

2. Les Allamby was appointed Chief Commissioner in 2014. Read more about the Chief Commissioner here. The Chief Commissioner was appointed by the Secretary of State for a period of five years.

3. Read more about the work of the Commission in its latest Annual Report here. Read about the Commission’s annual statement here.

4. The current part time Commissioners finish on 31 August 2017 having completed two three year terms of office.

5. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

6.Biography of Appointees

Helen Ferguson was a Director, Carers Northern Ireland, from 1994-2015. She has over 30 years’ experience of working in the community and voluntary sector. She is currently a member of the Equality Commission.

Helena Macormac is a lawyer currently employed as Policy Director for National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

Paul Mageean is currently the Director of Institute of Professional Legal Studies, Queens University and a Parole Commissioner. He is a former Head of Criminal Justice Inspectorate.

Samuel John McCallister is in the farming industry and formerly served as a UUP MLA from 2007 to 2013.

Edmond Rooney is a retired Senior Civil Servant who was Deputy Secretary in OFMDFM (now The Executive Office) and a former Chief Executive of the Public Health Agency

Graham Shields is the former Chief Electoral Officer for Northern Ireland and a retired senior police officer.


30 Aug 2017

Joint UKIM statement on UNCRPD examination

Home » News

As health and social care budgets are slashed disabled people’s right to independent living is being continually eroded, the UK’s equality and human rights bodies have said.

The warning comes ahead of a UN examination of the UK’s track record on disabled people’s rights today.

After years of cuts to authorities who fund care across the UK, many disabled people who need support to live independently in the community are not getting help, or are only getting the bare minimum.

The latest analysis shows that disabled people are losing support to enable them to take part in community life, go out to work and see friends and family.

This is just one of a number of threats to disabled people’s rights highlighted in a report from the UK’s national human rights and equality commissions.

Other key areas for concern include:

· the overall impact of seven years of cuts to social security payments

· gaps in legal protection and barriers to accessing justice

· the continued use of physical and chemical restraint

· bullying of disabled children in schools

· the need for further action to tackle disability hate crime and harassment and

· the levels of legal protection for disabled people in Northern Ireland which is lower than in the rest of the UK.

Today the UK will be examined by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva. The same Committee last year judged that changes to social security had led to ‘grave and systematic violations’ of disabled people’s rights.

Speaking on behalf of the Independent Monitoring Mechanism set up to monitor disabled people’s rights in the UK, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, David Isaac, said:

“There is a real concern that disabled people are being increasingly marginalised and shut out of society as they bear the brunt of the accumulated impact of cuts in public spending.

“Disabled people have won hard fought battles in recent decades to ensure that they can live independently to exercise choice and control over their support. Evidence of regression must be confronted and urgently addressed.

“As the UK and devolved governments’ track record on disability rights comes under the international microscope, we call for concerted action to remove the barriers in society that prevent disabled people living full lives on equal terms with non-disabled people. Everyone is entitled to the same opportunities and respect – the governments must start taking the human rights of disabled people more seriously.”

Notes to editors

1. The report has been produced by the United Kingdom Independent Mechanism (UKIM). In 2009 the UK Government designated the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) as UKIM under Article 33 of the Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). They are tasked with promoting, protecting and monitoring implementation of the CRPD.

2. For more information on the CRPD visit https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/our-human-rights-work/monitoring-and-promoting-un-treaties/un-convention-rights-persons-disabilities


23 Aug 2017

Report to UN Calls on UK to Improve Disability Rights Record

Home » News

Government, at both UK and at Stormont level, needs to implement fully the obligations set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in order to remove the barriers faced by people with disabilities in Northern Ireland.

That is the message which the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland will be delivering to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva this week. They will be presenting a joint report to the Committee, together with human rights and equality bodies from Great Britain, as part of an examination of the UK’s record on disability rights.

Speaking ahead of the Committee presentation, NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, commented:

“Disabled people are amongst the most vulnerable in society and face many barriers every day. For example, almost one in three disabled people in Northern Ireland have said they find it difficult using public transport. This report identifies where the gaps are in law, policy as well as in services such as Transport and Housing in Northern Ireland and across the UK. It calls on the Government to resource long-term positive awareness-raising campaigns, training and education to address prejudice and negative attitudes towards all disabled people, including those with mental health conditions and those claiming social security benefits. We call on the UK Government and the devolved administrations to take all the appropriate steps to fully progress the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

ECNI Chief Commissioner Dr Michael Wardlow said: “Our report to the UN Committee highlights that disabled people in Northern Ireland have less legal protection from discrimination than disabled people in Great Britain. We need action from Government to close this gap.
It is also not acceptable that the last Northern Ireland Executive Disability Strategy ended on 31 March 2017 with none of the signature projects associated with the Strategy having commenced. It is vital that we see action to ensure that key projects are delivered, that key issues are addressed, and that the lives of disabled people in Northern Ireland are improved.”

The report of the UK Independent Mechanism identifies a number specific issues concerning Northern Ireland:

· Legal Protections: There is a lower level of protection for disabled people in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has called on the Northern Ireland Executive to make changes to disability equality legislation, not only to keep pace with positive legislative changes in GB, but also to adopt measures which better reflect the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requirements in, for example, making provision for redress against multiple discrimination.

* Housing: A 2017 Equality Commission for Northern Ireland statement reported that many disabled people in Northern Ireland live in homes that are inadequate for their disability-related needs. The Northern Ireland Executive should implement in full the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Review of Housing Adaptations Services Final Report and Action Plan 2016.
* Transport: There are a number of accessibility problems in Northern Ireland. A 2015 survey found that 30 per cent of disabled people stated that difficulties getting on or off vehicles prevented them from using public transport, compared with four per cent of non-disabled people. The Northern Ireland Executive should commit to resource and fully implement the Accessible Transport Strategy 2025.

· Special Educational Needs: Students with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or a disability have lower attainment levels than students without. A Northern Ireland Audit Office report in June 2017 was critical in terms of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, of the level of support currently provided to more than 75,000 children with SEN in mainstream schools. In May 2017 three schools apologised to the families of children with SEN after refusing to accept them as pupils. The families brought cases against the schools in question to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal with the support of the Equality Commission.

ENDS

Further information:

Please contact

NIHRC - Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987) or 07717 731873 or Zara Porter at 02890 243987.

ECNI - Christina Martin on: (028 9089 0861) or out of hours 07715 476186.

Notes to editors

1. The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission are jointly designated with a role to promote, protect and monitor the implementation of the Convention by the Northern Ireland Government. Watch a short video on this joint work here<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5mnnmOKOhM>.

2. The Disability Rights in the UK report has been produced by the United Kingdom Independent Mechanism (UKIM). In 2009 the UK Government designated the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI), the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) as UKIM under Article 33 of the Convention on the Right of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). They are tasked with promoting, protecting and monitoring implementation of the CRPD. Access the full report on the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s website www.nihrc.org<http://www.nihrc.org> and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s website www.equalityni.org/uncrpd<http://www.equalityni.org/ECNI/media/ECNI/Publications/Delivering%20Equality/UKIM-ShadowReport-July17.pdf>

3. The report has been submitted to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is the body of independent experts which monitors implementation of the Convention by the States Parties. The Committee’s examination of the UK will take place at the United Nations offices in Geneva in August 2017. After the examination the Committee will produce its own report on the UK Government implementation of the Convention at a later date.

4. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is the body of independent experts which monitors implementation of the Convention by the States Parties. The Committee’s examination of the UK will take place at the United Nations offices in Geneva in August 2017.


23 Aug 2017

The NIHRC Blog #5

Home » News

As a National Human Rights Institution, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission operates under The Paris Principles, a set of guidelines adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1993 which the Commission has adhered to since opening its doors in March 1999. The Principles cover a range of areas, and set out the duty to develop relations with NGOs who are:

‘devoted to promoting and protecting human rights,

to economic and social development,

to combating racism,

to protecting particularly vulnerable groups (especially children, migrant workers, refugees, disabled persons)

or to specialised areas.’

One of the advantages of being the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is that, due to the small population, contacts and connections are generally made more quickly. Whilst the Commission - as a statutory body - engages heavily with government and other public authorities, we also have the opportunity to work with a range of non-governmental organisations. This has led to a host of exciting collaborations for the Commission.

In light of that, we thought we might take this opportunity to highlight just some of the groups we’ve engaged with so far in 2017. A bit like when your favourite TV sitcom dedicates an entire episode to flashbacks and ‘best bits’ midway through a season.

2017 started out with a collaboration with The Prince’s Trust, when we invited some of their Young Ambassadors along to participate in a day-long discussion on mental health. The Commission has been a big advocate for mental healthcare reform, calling for the commencement of last year’s Mental Capacity (NI) Act. This engagement opportunity provided us with fresh perspectives and a deeper understanding of the mental health issues encountered by young people in Northern Ireland. Following on from the event, some of our staff received training from the Prince’s Trust and we’ve put together a short film, which documents the experiences and opinions of the young people we spoke to. (We plan to launch the film later in 2017 - so stay tuned.)

As highlighted before, we teamed up with Northern Ireland Community of Refugees & Asylum Seekers and the Belfast Friendship Club for this year’s World Refugee Day. This was a great chance to engage with refugees and asylum seekers living here in Northern Ireland, and give them an opportunity to tell their stories. A few months before that, we met with the North West Migrants Forum to hear about their valuable work and to ensure our engagement stretches beyond Belfast and the immediate surrounding area.

In addition to these great organisations, we carry out regular visits to the different council areas (such as this one) - engaging with local community groups, councillors and emergency services - and are in constant contact with folks like the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and the Human Rights Consortium. In August, we joined the two organisations to engage with NGOs such as Disability Action to grasp a deeper understanding of the issues affecting persons with disabilities in Northern Ireland, ahead of the UK’s review by the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

With a few months left in 2017, we’re looking forward to the relationships still to be built before the year’s end. You’ll have the chance to see even more of our favourite partnerships during Culture Night which rolls out across Belfast on Friday 22 September, when we’ll showcase some of our short films - made alongside the Simon Community, Barnardo’s, Women’s Aid, the Law Centre NI, Migrant Help, Carers NI and other great individuals. We’d love to see you there, so keep an eye out for your invitation via social media!


22 Aug 2017

Invitation to Tender: Development of Short Animations/Films

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) is seeking to raise awareness of human rights and to ensure greater accessibility to the public through its website and across its social networking sites. In order to improve the accessibility of its services, the NIHRC wishes to expand its current range of digital materials and would like to invite you to quote for the development of short animations or films.

Details of the tendering process can be found here for your information.

Any questions about the project should be emailed to claire.martin@nihrc.org who will arrange for a prompt response

The closing date for receipt of quotations is 12 noon on Friday 18 August 2017.


27 Jul 2017

The NIHRC Blog #4

Home » News

The fourth instalment of the NIHRC Blog is written by our Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby:

The Court of Appeal has issued its judgement on the Commission’s legal challenge to the lack of access to termination in Northern Ireland in cases of fatal foetal abnormality, serious malformation of the foetus and for victims of sexual crimes. Save for upholding the right of the Commission to take the case without a victim, the Court of Appeal upheld the appeal of the Department of Justice and Attorney General and dismissed the Commission’s cross appeal.

All three judgements referenced the Supreme Court decision in Nicklinson in 2015 (the right to assisted suicide case) in which the Supreme Court refused by a majority to override legislation which created a criminal offence for assisted
suicide. In Nicklinson a majority held that the constitutional authority that a general prohibition on assisted suicide was incompatible with Article 8 but only two judges would have granted a declaration of incompatibility under the Human Rights Act. The Court had held that, on questions of moral and political judgements, courts would be slow to intervene albeit that the fact moral issues are involved does not preclude the courts’ direct involvement. The decision, in part, turned on the Westminster Parliament’s active consideration of the existing law and whether it should be reviewed. In the Commission’s case, the judges’ consideration of Nicklinson alongside the significant margin of appreciation recognised by the European Court of Human Rights led to a conclusion that the issue should be dealt with by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Despite this disappointment, there were a number of crumbs of comfort. The Lord Chief Justice signalled his willingness to expand the horizons of the common law outlined in R v Bourne (1939) to allow terminations beyond the current circumstances, namely where there is a risk to the life of the mother or serious and long-term harm to her physical and mental health.

In particular, he outlined the present law

‘prioritises the need to protect to a reasonable extent the life that women in (the circumstances presented in affidavits before the Court) these emotionally devastating situations can enjoy. In my opinion that requires the court to determine what is reasonably tolerable in today’s society that is not to be defined by the values of the 1930s’.

Neither of the other judges was prepared to extend the common law though, in passing, Lord Justice Gillen noted his difficulty in seeing how the women’s circumstances outlined before the court did not fall within the Bourne exception. Of course, the lack of clarity about when a termination is lawful and the consequences of the criminal law leads to the problem being exported except in the most extreme of circumstances.

Unusually, the Court of Appeal invited the Commission to lodge any appeal immediately and that leave to appeal would be granted acknowledging the likelihood that the case was likely to go to the Supreme Court regardless of outcome. The Commission has lodged its appeal and leave has been granted. We will now seek an expedited hearing before the Supreme Court and seek to join the case with the earlier application from the Attorney General challenging the Commission’s
standing to take the case.

Alongside the human rights arguments, the Supreme Court is likely to revisit again the thorny question of whether and, if so, in what way the courts should intervene in contested moral and legal arguments which have not been resolved by the
legislature.


18 Jul 2017

Update on the Human Rights Commission’s Challenge to N.I Termination of Pregnancy Laws

Home » News

The Court of Appeal has today granted the Human Rights Commission leave to appeal to the Supreme Court UK.

On 30 June 2017 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission applied for leave to appeal the Court of Appeal judgment, delivered on 29 June 2017, to the Supreme Court UK.

The Commission is seeking a change to the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so.

The Commission remains concerned that the law on termination of pregnancy as it stands does not protect women and girls the right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, their right to privacy or their right to freedom from discrimination.

We will continue to notify you of any further developments in this case.

For further information, please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org or (028) 90269760 or 0771 7731873.

Notes to Editors

The Appeal

On 29 June 2017, the Court of Appeal did not uphold the Commission’s challenge to the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland. The three Court of Appeal judges all gave separate judgments. The judges were divided on two specific issues. On the question of whether the Northern Ireland Termination of pregnancy laws breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, one judge ruled in favour of the Commission’s argument and two ruled against. In addition, one judged ruled that the common law should be extended to allow termination of pregnancies in certain circumstances beyond the (R v Bourne case), the two other judge disagreed with that ruling. All three judges acknowledged the importance of the legal issue and the need for the Northern Ireland Assembly to resolve this matter.

In November 2015, the Belfast High Court found in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s favour ruling that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights. In January 2015, both the Department of Justice and Attorney General appealed the judgment. The Commission cross-appealed and re-introduced all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court. The Commission called for the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of foetus (including fatal foetal abnormality), rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so, to be made available in Northern Ireland.

Termination of Pregnancy in N.I

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The doctor must be of the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a “physical or mental wreck” (R v. Bourne [1939] KB 687, per Macnaghten J at 694). It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy, under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

Who are the parties in the Appeal?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. Although not parties to the appeal, additional written submissions to the court have been made by Amnesty International, Sarah Ewart, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, the Northern Bishops, Precious Life and Alliance for Choice.

The November 2015 High Court Ruling

The High Court held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family and private life, was breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes. The High Court did not uphold the Commission’s arguments that Article 3 (freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 14 (freedom from discrimination) were breached with regard to accessing terminations in cases of serious malformation of the foetus. The right of the Commission to take the case in its own name was endorsed. The Judgment in this case can be found here.

Why did the Commission take the case in its own name?

Given the significance of the case and the sensitive issues involved, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission took the case in its own name. This decision was made to protect women or girls from having to take the case on their own.

How can the Human Rights Commission take cases?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is able to initiate proceedings in its own name through powers set out in Justice and Security Act (NI) 2007. The Commission, in its own name, has successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This means that unmarried couples (same sex and opposite sex) and civil partners can now apply to adopt a child in Northern Ireland.

Has the Commission taken a case in its own name before?

Yes, in the High Court in 2012 and the Court of Appeal in 2013 the Commission successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, in its own name. Nonetheless, the Commission’s right to take this case in its own name is being challenged by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General on appeal.

Recent Developments in International Human Rights include:

Human Rights Law has developed alongside the Commission’s case on Termination of Pregnancy Laws in N.I. The Commission has updated the Court of these developments. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its report on the United Kingdom on 9 June 2016. The Committee has called on the UK Government to: decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland in all circumstances and a review of legislation with a view to ensuring girls’ access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services. Read the UNCRC Concluding Observations here

Case Timeline

From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls.

In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime.

In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. In the Human Rights Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

In April 2015 the Department of Justice published its summary of responses to the consultation and announced its intention to bring forward proposals to change the law covering fatal foetal abnormality only. However the issue never reached NI Executive agenda.

15-17 June 2015 the Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court. Judgment was reserved at the close of proceedings on 17 June.

30 November 2015 the High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights.

16 December 2015 the High Court granted a Declaration of Incompatibility (DOI) under the Human Rights Act 1998. This was based on the law prohibiting termination of pregnancy in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crime being a violation of women’s right to personal autonomy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

20-24 June 2016 the Human Rights Commission’s legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s termination of pregnancy laws was heard at the Court of Appeal in Belfast. The Commission cross-appealed and re-introduced all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court in 2015.

February 2017 the Attorney General challenged the powers of the Commission to take this case by referring a number of devolution questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on this point separately. A date has yet to be set for this.

29 June 2017 the Court of Appeal delivered their judgment in the case.

Human Rights

In forming its view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission has considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged in this case:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

1. The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.


03 Jul 2017

Commission will Appeal Termination of Pregnancy Ruling

Home » News

The Court of Appeal did not uphold the Human Rights Commission’s challenge to the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland. The Commission has now confirmed it will lodge an appeal to the Supreme Court in England following on from the invitation by the Court of Appeal to do this.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“Today at a special meeting of the Human Rights Commission and following legal advice the Commissioners noted the Court of Appeal’s judgment. We first raised this issue in 2013 and remain as concerned today in 2017 that the law on termination of pregnancy as it stands does not protect women and girls right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, their right to privacy or their right to freedom from discrimination.

We will continue to seek a change to the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so. The Commission will lodge our application for leave to the Supreme Court tomorrow.”

For further information, please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org or (028) 90269760

Notes to Editors The Appeal

On 29 June 2017, the Court of Appeal did not uphold the Commission’s challenge to the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland. The three Court of Appeal judges all gave separate judgments. The judges were divided on two specific issues. On the question of whether the Northern Ireland Termination of pregnancy laws breached Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, one judge ruled in favour of the Commission’s argument and two ruled against. In addition, one judged ruled that the common law should be extended to allow termination of pregnancies in certain circumstances beyond the (R v Bourne case), the two other judge disagreed with that ruling. All three judges acknowledged the importance of the legal issue and the need for the Northern Ireland Assembly to resolve this matter.

In November 2015, the Belfast High Court found in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s favour ruling that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights. In January 2015, both the Department of Justice and Attorney General appealed the judgment. The Commission cross-appealed and re-introduced all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court. The Commission called for the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of foetus (including fatal foetal abnormality), rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so, to be made available in Northern Ireland.

Termination of Pregnancy in N.I

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The doctor must be of the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a “physical or mental wreck” (R v. Bourne [1939] KB 687, per Macnaghten J at 694). It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy, under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

Who are the parties in the Appeal?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. Although not parties to the appeal, additional written submissions to the court have been made by Amnesty International, Sarah Ewart, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, the Northern Bishops, Precious Life and Alliance for Choice.

The November 2015 High Court Ruling

The High Court held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family and private life, was breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes. The High Court did not uphold the Commission’s arguments that Article 3 (freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 14 (freedom from discrimination) were breached with regard to accessing terminations in cases of serious malformation of the foetus. The right of the Commission to take the case in its own name was endorsed. The Judgment in this case can be found here.

Why did the Commission take the case in its own name?

Given the significance of the case and the sensitive issues involved, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission took the case in its own name. This decision was made to protect women or girls from having to take the case on their own.

How can the Human Rights Commission take cases?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is able to initiate proceedings in its own name through powers set out in Justice and Security Act (NI) 2007. The Commission, in its own name, has successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This means that unmarried couples (same sex and opposite sex) and civil partners can now apply to adopt a child in Northern Ireland.

Has the Commission taken a case in its own name before?

Yes, in the High Court in 2012 and the Court of Appeal in 2013 the Commission successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, in its own name. Nonetheless, the Commission’s right to take this case in its own name is being challenged by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General on appeal.

Recent Developments in International Human Rights include:

Human Rights Law has developed alongside the Commission’s case on Termination of Pregnancy Laws in N.I. The Commission has updated the Court of these developments. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its report on the United Kingdom on 9 June 2016. The Committee has called on the UK Government to: decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland in all circumstances and a review of legislation with a view to ensuring girls’ access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services. Read the UNCRC Concluding Observations here

Case Timeline

From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls.

In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime.

In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. In the Human Rights Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

In April 2015 the Department of Justice published its summary of responses to the consultation and announced its intention to bring forward proposals to change the law covering fatal foetal abnormality only. However the issue never reached NI Executive agenda.

15-17 June 2015 the Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court. Judgment was reserved at the close of proceedings on 17 June.

30 November 2015 the High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights.

16 December 2015 the High Court granted a Declaration of Incompatibility (DOI) under the Human Rights Act 1998. This was based on the law prohibiting termination of pregnancy in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crime being a violation of women’s right to personal autonomy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

20-24 June 2016 the Human Rights Commission’s legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s termination of pregnancy laws was heard at the Court of Appeal in Belfast. The Commission cross-appealed and re-introduced all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court in 2015.

February 2017 the Attorney General challenged the powers of the Commission to take this case by referring a number of devolution questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on this point separately. A date has yet to be set for this.

29 June 2017 the Court of Appeal delivered their judgment in the case.

Human Rights

In forming its view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission has considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged in this case:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

1. The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.


29 Jun 2017

Chief Commissioner comments on Termination of Pregnancy Appeal Ruling

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has commented on the Court of Appeal’s judgment today. The Court did not uphold the Commission’s challenge to the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland. The judges were divided on whether to extend the common law and whether there was a breach of Article 8, the right to family and private life in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and victims of sexual crimes. All three judges acknowledged the importance of the legal issue and the need for the Northern Ireland Assembly to resolve this matter.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“We took this case as we want to bring about a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so.

We have heard many harrowing stories from vulnerable women and young girls who have been faced with very difficult situations and have also had to carry the fear of being criminalised alongside this. We want to ensure that the rights of vulnerable women and girls in these situations are always protected.

The Commission is disappointed with the judgment but retains its view that the law as it stands does not protect women and girls right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, their right to privacy or their right to freedom from discrimination. The Court indicated that if they receive an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court tomorrow they will be minded to grant such leave. This in my view is unprecedented and reflects recognition of how important the judges consider the issue to be. The Commission will now consider the Court’s invitation.”


29 Jun 2017

Belfast Court of Appeal to deliver judgment in Commission’s Appeal on Termination of Pregnancy Laws

Home » News

Belfast Court of Appeal will deliver judgment in Human Rights Commission’s Appeal on Termination of Pregnancy Laws on Thursday 29 June 2017 at 10am

Case FAQ’s

The Appeal

In November 2015, the Belfast High Court found in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s favour ruling that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights. In January 2015, both the Department of Justice and Attorney General appealed the judgment. The Commission cross-appealed and re-introduced all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court. We are calling for the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of foetus (including fatal foetal abnormality), rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so, to be made available in Northern Ireland.

Who are the parties in the Appeal?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. Although not parties to the appeal, additional written submissions to the court have been made by Amnesty International, Sarah Ewart, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, the Northern Bishops, Precious Life and Alliance for Choice.

The November 2015 High Court Ruling

The Commission won the case at the High Court. It held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family and private life, was breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes. The High Court did not uphold the Commission’s arguments that Article 3 (freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 14 (freedom from discrimination) were breached with regard to accessing terminations in cases of serious malformation of the foetus. The right of the Commission to take the case in its own name was endorsed. The Judgment in this case can be found here.

Why did the Commission take the case in its own name?

Given the significance of the case and the sensitive issues involved, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission took the case in its own name. This decision was made to protect women or girls from having to take the case on their own.

How can the Human Rights Commission take cases?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is able to initiate proceedings in its own name through powers set out in Justice and Security Act (NI) 2007. The Commission, in its own name, has successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This means that unmarried couples (same sex and opposite sex) and civil partners can now apply to adopt a child in Northern Ireland.

Has the Commission taken a case in its own name before?

Yes, in the High Court in 2012 and the Court of Appeal in 2013 the Commission successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, in its own name. The Commission’s right to take this case in its own name is being challenged by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General on appeal.

Termination of Pregnancy in N.I

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The doctor must be of the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a “physical or mental wreck” (R v. Bourne [1939] KB 687, per Macnaghten J at 694). It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy, under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

1967 Abortion Act

The Commission is not seeking to introduce the Abortion Act 1967 in Northern Ireland and does not engage this law in this legal challenge. The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, including fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest.

Recent Developments in International Human Rights include:

Human Rights Law has developed alongside the Commission’s case on Termination of Pregnancy Laws in N.I. The Commission has updated the Court of these developments. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its report on the United Kingdom on 9 June 2016. The Committee has called on the UK Government to: decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland in all circumstances and a review of legislation with a view to ensuring girls’ access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services. Read the UNCRC Concluding Observations here:

Case Timeline

From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls.

In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime.

In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. In the Human Rights Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

In April 2015 the Department of Justice published its summary of responses to the consultation and announced its intention to bring forward proposals to change the law covering fatal foetal abnormality only. However the issue never reached NI Executive agenda.

15-17 June 2015 the Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court. Judgment was reserved at the close of proceedings on 17 June.

30 November 2015 the High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights.

16 December 2015 the High Court granted a Declaration of Incompatibility (DOI) under the Human Rights Act 1998. This was based on the law prohibiting termination of pregnancy in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crime being a violation of women’s right to personal autonomy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

20-24 June 2016 the Human Rights Commission’s legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s termination of pregnancy laws was heard at the Court of Appeal in Belfast. The Commission cross-appealed and re-introduced all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court in 2015.

February 2017 the Attorney General challenged the powers of the Commission to take this case by referring a number of devolution questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on this point separately. A date has yet to be set for this.

29 June 2017 the Court of Appeal is expected to deliver their judgment in the case.

Human Rights

In forming its view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission has considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged in this case:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.


26 Jun 2017

The NIHRC Blog #3

Home » News

World Refugee Day: Small Worlds in Belfast

Very gradually, individuals made their way into the room. Smiles were exchanged politely and seats taken around the five tables set out on the studio floor.

People had travelled various distances to be here - but none quite so far as Mehrshad.

Or Viktoriya.

Or Geetha.

Or Norma and Maryama.

Anticipation mounted.

Tuesday 20 June marks World Refugee Day. Established by the United Nations General Assembly, June 20 has been set aside as Word Refugee Day since 2001 - the year which marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.

Each year, the UK celebrates Refugee Week, expanding World Refugee Day into a week-long event aimed at creating ‘better understanding between different communities and to encourage successful integration, enabling refugees to live in safety and continue making a valuable contribution’.

This year, we partnered with the Northern Ireland Community of Refugee & Asylum Seekers (NICRAS) and got in touch with the Belfast Friendship Club, asking them to host a Small Worlds workshop with us.

The concept was simple. Five tables. Five hosts - each of whom had left their homelands in pursuit of safety.

Each host sat with photographs of their home countries carefully laid out on the tables before them, and began to recall their stories - where they came from; why they left; and how they came to be in Northern Ireland.

Each story shared drew ears closer as those listening tried to grapple with what they were hearing.

Mehrshad had fled persecution in Iran. Viktoriya and Geetha spoke of how they were forced to leave Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka, respectively, because of racial discrimination and threat of violence. Norma told of how she left behind oppression in Zimbabwe, while Maryama escaped the devastation of militia-ravaged Somalia.

In June 2016, the UN ICESCR Committee expressed concern about the challenges faced by asylum seekers in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, particularly those that are due to severe restrictions in taking up employment and the insufficient level of support provided through the daily allowance. The UN ICESCR Committee recommended that the State party:

  • increase the level of support provided to asylum seekers, including through the daily allowance, in order to ensure that they enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights, in particular the right to an adequate standard of living.
  • encouraged the State party to ensure that asylum seekers are not restricted from accessing employment while their claims are being processed.

Although differing in status - only one of the hosts has been granted refugee status, after a five year wait, while the remainder are awaiting decisions on their applications for asylum - the hosts had one commonality: they now call Belfast their home. Owing greatly to the work of Stephanie Mitchell and the Belfast Friendship Club, the five have found a source of support and solidarity in a city they hadn’t known existed until it became the only safe harbour available to them.

(Pictured: Viktoriya; Mehrshad; Stephanie Mitchell from Belfast Friendship Club and South Belfast Roundtable; NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby; NIHRC Communications Manager Claire Martin; Geetha and Norma.)

For more pictures from our Small Worlds event, visit our Facebook page.

[We welcome your input and ideas on topics you would like to read more about. If there’s a particular issue you have in mind, get in touch: zara.porter@nihrc.org]

#NIHRCBlog3


20 Jun 2017

Human Rights & Healthcare Shaping the Future Together

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission joined up with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust and Newcastle University at an event in Ballymena Health and Care Centre on Saturday 17 June. Members of the public gave their views on how local community services can be delivered.

Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Les Allamby stated:

This is an innovative and important piece of work. One of the Commission’s recommendations in our inquiry into emergency healthcare in Northern Ireland was the need for a more participative, human rights based approach to the development of future services. The Northern Trust has responded very positively to this recommendation. Engaging and consulting with the people who use the services, listening to their views is one key strand of embedding a human rights based approach into healthcare.

We commend the Trust for engaging in this way. A human rights based approach empowers people to know and claim their rights. It increases the accountability of those who plan and provide services and who are responsible for human rights. It also emphasises that the right of staff to be treated with respect and dignity should also be upheld. This means giving people greater opportunities to participate in shaping the decisions and services that impact on their rights. The Commission looks forward to working in partnership with the Trust in the future.”

At the Ballymena event service users and carers were asked to consider the challenges of providing community services locally and give their views on how best to

· Provide personal care at home (domiciliary care)

· Support family carers

· Reduce social isolation

· Support people with chronic conditions

Chief Executive of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, Dr Tony Stevens, commented:

“We are delighted service users and carers have given up their valuable time to come to talk to us about the services they value. We are committed to effective engagement and today we are testing a ground breaking method of engagement.


(Pictured: Dr Ian O’Flynn, Newcastle University; Alison Irwin, NHSCT; and David Russell, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.)


19 Jun 2017

Fact sheet on Human Rights Commission’s Appeal on Termination of Pregnancy Laws

Home » News

Case FAQs

The Appeal

In November 2015, the Belfast High Court found in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s favour ruling that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights. In January 2015, both the Department of Justice and Attorney General appealed the judgment. The Commission cross-appealed and re-introduced all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court. We are calling for the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of foetus (including fatal foetal abnormality), rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so, to be made available in Northern Ireland.

Who are the parties in the Appeal?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. Although not parties to the appeal, additional written submissions to the court have been made by Amnesty International, Sarah Ewart, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, the Northern Bishops, Precious Life and Alliance for Choice.

The November 2015 High Court Ruling

The Commission won the case at the High Court. It held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family and private life, was breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes. The High Court did not uphold the Commission’s arguments that Article 3 (freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment) and Article 14 (freedom from discrimination) were breached with regard to accessing terminations in cases of serious malformation of the foetus. The right of the Commission to take the case in its own name was endorsed. The Judgment in this case can be found here.

Why did the Commission take the case in its own name?

Given the significance of the case and the sensitive issues involved, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission took the case in its own name. This decision was made to protect women or girls from having to take the case on their own.

How can the Human Rights Commission take cases?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is able to initiate proceedings in its own name through powers set out in Justice and Security Act (NI) 2007. The Commission, in its own name, has successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This means that unmarried couples (same sex and opposite sex) and civil partners can now apply to adopt a child in Northern Ireland.

Has the Commission taken a case in its own name before?

Yes, in the High Court in 2012 and the Court of Appeal in 2013 the Commission successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, in its own name. The Commission’s right to take this case in its own name is being challenged by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General on appeal.

Termination of Pregnancy in N.I

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The doctor must be of the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a “physical or mental wreck” (R v. Bourne [1939] KB 687, per Macnaghten J at 694). It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy, under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

1967 Abortion Act

The Commission is not seeking to introduce the Abortion Act 1967 in Northern Ireland and does not engage this law in this legal challenge. The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, including fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest.

Recent Developments in International Human Rights include:

Human Rights Law has developed alongside the Commission’s case on Termination of Pregnancy Laws in N.I. The Commission has updated the Court of these developments. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its report on the United Kingdom on 9 June 2016. The Committee has called on the UK Government to: decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland in all circumstances and a review of legislation with a view to ensuring girls’ access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services. Read the UNCRC Concluding Observations here:

Case Timeline

From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls.

In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime.

In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. In the Human Rights Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

In April 2015 the Department of Justice published its summary of responses to the consultation and announced its intention to bring forward proposals to change the law covering fatal foetal abnormality only. However the issue never reached NI Executive agenda.

15-17 June 2015 the Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court. Judgment was reserved at the close of proceedings on 17 June.

30 November 2015 the High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights.

16 December 2015 the High Court granted a Declaration of Incompatibility (DOI) under the Human Rights Act 1998. This was based on the law prohibiting termination of pregnancy in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crime being a violation of women’s right to personal autonomy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

20-24 June 2016 the Human Rights Commission’s legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s termination of pregnancy laws was heard at the Court of Appeal in Belfast. The Commission cross-appealed and re-introduced all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court in 2015.

February 2017 the Attorney General challenged the powers of the Commission to take this case by referring a number of devolution questions to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on this point separately. A date has yet to be set for this.

June 2017 the Court of Appeal in Belfast is expected to deliver their judgment in the case.

Human Rights

In forming its view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission has considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged in this case:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.


07 Jun 2017

Human Rights Commission visits Antrim and Newtownabbey

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission visited community representatives from Antrim and Newtownabbey on Thursday 1 June. The visit took place as part of the Commission’s continuing community engagement programme, and included meetings with a variety of community groups.

The Commission met with the Community Relations Forum, Senior Citizens Forum and local community groups. In addition, the Chief Commissioner met with the Antrim and Newtownabbey PSNI.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said: “We looked forward to Thursday’s visit to the Antrim and Newtownabbey area, and to engaging with local community groups and council representatives there. We would like to thank everyone who took the time to meet us. The Commission’s community engagement programme has so far enabled us to engage with a broad range of groups across Northern Ireland. We heard from local people and organisations on the issues that are most important to them. Such feedback helps us plan our own services and shapes our priorities going forward.”


07 Jun 2017

The NIHRC Blog #2

Home » News

The second instalment of the NIHRC Blog is written by our Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby:

One of the interesting aspects of being a Chief Commissioner is you never know what invitations to speak will find their way into your ‘inbox’.

In my role as chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, I spoke to the Oireachtas Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa in Dublin on ‘Being Gay in Africa – the human rights situation’.

In the audience of politicians, human rights defenders, lawyers, academics and NGOs was Independent Senator David Norris whose successful legal challenge to the prohibition of male gay sexual activity in Ireland in 1988 led to its decriminalisation.

A generation on, the situation in Africa states provides a mixed picture of optimism and despair.

In Africa 33 states criminalize same sex activity including in Sudan, 12 northern states in Nigeria and Southern parts of Somalia where the death penalty is applied through codifying arrangements under Sharia law. Elsewhere seven African states have laws targeting freedom of expression related to sexual orientation namely, Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Somalia and Tunisia. No African state has hate crimes legislation covering sexual orientation as an aggravated circumstance for violent activity and only one state (South Africa) has a law prohibiting hate speech based on sexual orientation. South Africa is the only state recognising equal marriage and no other state recognises civil partnerships or equivalent arrangements carrying rights and protections.

However, an analysis of laws does not provide a full picture. In Egypt, where same sex relations are not prohibited by criminal law, other legislation has been used to imprison gay men in recent years.

In contrast, in Kenya where same sex relationships between men is a criminal offence, there is a thriving LGBTI NGO movement emboldened enough to successfully challenge a decision of the Attorney General to refuse to register the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission on constitutional grounds as an abuse of power and contrary to freedom of association.

The closure of civic space to LGBTI organisations has also been successfully resisted in the courts in Botswana, Tunisia and Zambia. Nonetheless the bravery and risks run by individuals who are openly gay in many African States cannot be underestimated.

Within Africa Human Rights Commissions there are examples of important practice. Five NHRIs (Ghana, Malawi, Kenya, South Africa and Uganda) have developed a tool kit to promote international human rights standards informed by local laws, cultural norms and political structures.

The tool kit is part of a wider capacity building and training initiative being undertaken with civil society. In Ghana a direct reporting system has been initiated by the Ghanaian Commission to ‘give discrimination the red card!’. The initiative focussed on key groups, including gay men, female sex workers and people with HIV, encouraging the reporting of discrimination online, in person or by text. Following the initiative a number of issues have been resolved around bullying and inappropriate disclosure of HIV status by medical authorities.

A wider snapshot of the global state of play on LGBTI issues is provided from the brilliant annual ILGA publication ‘State Sponsored Homophobia – a world survey of sexual orientation laws: criminalisation, protection and recognition’.

The Commission hopes to organise a meeting on LGBTI issues at next April’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London to both showcase the work of NHRIs and LGBTI organisations, and emphasise how much work still needs to be done.


15 May 2017

Chief Executive makes speech on Brexit and its impact on human rights and business

Home » News

The Chief Executive provided a speech to the INTERNATIONAL ARAB BANKING SUMMIT, IABS 2017 “Finance in an Unpredictable World”. Read the speech in full here.

The NIHRC provides the Secretariat to the Business and Human Rights Forum in Northern Ireland. It is a multi-stakeholder platform which allows Government, business, and civil society to engage on business and human rights.

Find out more about the Business and Human Rights Forum here.


15 May 2017

The NIHRC Blog #1

Home » News

​Welcome along to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s first blog post!

Over the past year, we have been working hard to enhance our digital content and seek out the best ways to engage with the public. In doing so, we have been busy updating our Facebook, Twitter and YouTube profiles with new and exciting content - as well as launching an Instagram account. We’ve really enjoyed adding vibrant new material to the web, and developing infographics to make content easier to digest.

These social networks allow us to share the work we’re currently doing, but they can be limiting - we can’t say a lot in 140 characters. So we wanted a way of going beyond the simple ‘picture and caption’ approach. We wanted a space where we can present the human rights issues we’re currently working on, and have room to dig a little deeper.

That’s where the NIHRC blog comes in.

We will create posts that engage and inform you - in a format that’s both lively and accurate. We will take time to cover topics that are relevant to you, living in Northern Ireland, as well as shining a light on issues arising internationally.

We want to create an open dialogue with our readers. To accommodate this, each post will contain a special #hashtag which we’ll encourage you to use on social media - so the discussion can develop across the web.

Every other month, our Chief Commissioner will contribute a blog post - and we’ll ask members of staff for their input, too, to give you a complete picture of the work that the NIHRC are doing.

It’s been a busy start to the year for Northern Ireland.

March 2nd saw the Northern Ireland Assembly election and, almost two months later, Northern Ireland is still without an Executive.

March 29th marked the triggering of Brexit. In its wake, our Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, voiced the NIHRC’s recommendation that:

‘the UK government ensures there is no regression in the protection of human rights as a consequence of exiting the European Union.’

Throughout this time, we have been working to protect and promote the rights of everyone in Northern Ireland, working with a huge variety of organisations and individuals along the way.

Right now, we’re working in partnership with the Northern Health and Social Care Trust to pilot a human rights-based approach to participatory decision-making. We’ve also been working with Young Ambassadors from the Prince’s Trust to engage with young people on the subject of mental health. We’re looking forward to the collaborations in store throughout 2017 - and we promise there will be plenty of updates both here and across our social networks.

So thank you for checking out the first NIHRC blog post. We plan to post every month, and look forward to welcoming you back soon.

[As well as sharing content on the issues currently on our agenda, we want to welcome your input and ideas on topics you would like to read more about. If there’s a particular issue you have in mind, get in touch:

zara.porter@nihrc.org]

#NIHRCblog


28 Apr 2017

Chief Executive delivers speech at the 2017 Commonwealth Sport Policy Expert Roundtable

Home » News

As Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, NIHRC Chief Executive, David Russell, delivered a speech at the 2017 Commonwealth Sport Policy Expert Roundtable. The Chief Executive spoke on the subject of ‘Balancing the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in and through sport policy’ on 6 and 7 April 2017. Read the speech in full here.


25 Apr 2017

Chief Commissioner delivers speech to the AWEPA

Home » News

As Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, Chief Commissioner Les Allamby, addressed the Irish Parliament’s Association of European Parliamentarians in Africa on the subject of ‘Being Gay in Africa – the human rights situation’ on Tuesday 4th April 2017 in Dublin.

Read his speech in full here.


25 Apr 2017

Human rights must be protected during period of change

Home » News

Human rights must be protected during period of change

The most marginalised in society will pay the price if human rights protections are weakened through Brexit and repealing the Human Rights Act, the UK’s three human rights institutions have warned.

In a meeting with Sir Oliver Heald QC MP, Minister of State for Justice, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Scottish Human Rights Commission and Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission stated that as we go through a period of great constitutional change the UK Government must take the opportunity to strengthen human rights protections, not weaken them.

The Minister was also told that the UK’s position as a global leader on human rights is under threat through repeated failures to implement United Nations human rights standards.

Next month the UK Government’s human rights record will be scrutinised by the UN in Geneva as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. All three commissions have submitted reports to the UN, which included issues such as access to justice, welfare reform and gender equality, as part of their role in monitoring and holding governments to account.

In a joint Chairs’ statement, David Isaac from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Judith Robertson from the Scottish Human Rights Commission and Les Allamby from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission said:

“Too many people are being let down on key human rights issues such as housing, food and social care. Next month the UK’s human rights record will come under the international microscope and our reports to the UN have made it clear where more work needs to be done.

“The UK has signed up to many international human rights laws. The government should now make them part of domestic law and policies so they can be enforced and improve people’s everyday lives.

“Brexit raises significant uncertainty about the future of human rights protections in the UK. As the process unfolds, the Government must make a commitment to strengthen human rights laws after leaving the EU. We are concerned that there will be a reduction in current human rights protection once we leave the EU. Our position is clear that there should be no diminution of rights and that we should take this opportunity to strengthen protection.

“We will be working together to ensure that the UN has an accurate picture of human rights across the UK and where the UK Government needs to do more.”

Notes to Editors

1. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and Scottish Human Rights Commission are all A-status National Human Rights Institutions, accredited within the United Nations human rights system.

2. The Universal Periodic Review: the UN Human Rights Council uses the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to assess the human rights record of every country in the world. Each State under Review is examined by its fellow states once every five years. The review of the United Kingdom will take place on 4 May 2017 in Geneva and can be watched on www.webtv.un.org/. The aim of the UPR is to share best practice and improve human rights across the globe. The UPR was created through the UN General Assembly on 15 March 2006 by resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council itself. It is a cooperative process which, by October 2011, has reviewed the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. Find out more about the UPR here.

3. Latest UPR reports of the National Human Rights Institutions:

Read the Scottish Human Rights Commission’s submission here or view their briefing papers here.

Read the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s submission here.

Read the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s submission here.


20 Apr 2017

TJI/NI Human Rights Commission Dissertation Prize

Home » News

The TJI/NI Human Rights Commission Dissertation Prize is awarded annually by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) for the highest LLM dissertation mark at Ulster University’s Transitional Justice Institute.

The 2016 winner was LLM graduate, Leo Green, who was awarded the prize for his dissertation: An All-Island Charter of Rights A means to harmonise and enhance human rights and equality provisions and protections throughout Ireland?’.

To read his dissertation in full, follow the link below:

https://www.ulster.ac.uk/research/institutes/transitional-justice-institute/updates/awards-and-prizes/2016-dissertation-prize


10 Apr 2017

Visit to Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre

Home » News

Visit to Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre

The Human Rights Commission has today visited Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre. The focus of the visit was the Centre’s education facility.

Speaking after the visit NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

The Commission would like to thank Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre for the opportunity to visit today. We welcome the progress being made to transfer responsibility for the provision of education from the Department of Justice to the Department of Education.

We have seen first-hand the operations of the Centre and met with the children and management team. The Commission was impressed with the ratio of staff to children.”

The Commission continually recommended for the provision of education to children in custody to fall to the Department of Education. In addition in its last report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child the Commission advised that the UN Committee should ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive to:

  • Take immediate action to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 12 years of age.

· Take immediate action to ensure that children are held in pre trial detention only in circumstances where it is a measure of last resort.

Chief Commissioner added:

“The remand of children in Woodlands remains a concern. Northern Ireland needs legislative reform to ensure that children are only held in pre-trial detention as a last measure and to ensure appropriate investment in alternative to custody arrangements.

Today’s visit will help us to benchmark education in Woodlands and we look forward to visiting again once the new arrangements are bedded in. It will also inform our engagement with the Government and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.”


03 Apr 2017

New Chief Executive appointed

Home » News

New Chief Executive Appointed


The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has appointed Dr David Russell as the new Chief Executive.

David has been employed by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission since 2008 and is the current Acting Director. From 2009-2016 he also served as a Non-executive Director at the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council.

David has led the Commission’s duty to advise the United Kingdom government, Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly on matters affecting human rights in the jurisdiction. In addition, he has managed research and the exercising of investigatory powers on a diversity of social policy issues from emergency healthcare to racist hate crimes; the rights of nursing care home residents to the display of flags’ symbols and emblems. In 2008, he was engaged in drafting the Commission’s advice to the Secretary of State on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. In 2010, he was similarly involved in the work of the Joint Committee of the National Human Rights Institutions on the island of Ireland to produce advice on a proposed Charter of Rights.

David has expertise assisting National Human Rights Institutions working in post-conflict societies or with those facing significant constitutional reforms worldwide. This has included providing support to capacity building and governance programmes delivered in partnership with the United Nations, United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Commonwealth Secretariat and European Union.

From 2006-2009 David was Visiting Research Fellow at the School of Education, Queen’s University Belfast, and from 2002-2004 he was a Research Associate at the University of Oxford. He holds a PhD from the University of York, MA and BA Hons from Queen’s University Belfast.

Following an open recruitment process David will take up the post on 3 April 2017.


24 Mar 2017

NIHRC comments on Expert Report

Home » News

NIHRC comments on Expert Report

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has responded to the recent report issued by the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“This expert UK wide report focuses on the Protection of National and Ethnic Minorities. It makes recommendations for immediate action to be taken in Northern Ireland on Traveller accommodation, Irish language legislation and the Good relations duty under the Northern Ireland Act.

The Commission has continuously engaged with this Committee and highlighted the gaps that exist in Northern Ireland on these issues and others including tackling hate crime and implementation of the Ulster Scots Strategy.

It is therefore disappointing that the NI Executive has yet again failed to engage in this important process. It follows a chain of non- engagement by the N.I Executive in human rights reporting processes. Scotland, England and Wales all report, N.I has again failed to do so. Contributing to this process only serves to enhance the rights of vulnerable groups in Northern Ireland and we urge the Executive to address this issue as soon as possible.”

The Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities made a number of recommendations for immediate action in relation to Northern Ireland:

The Northern Ireland Executive should:

1. Set-up a multi-agency Taskforce on Traveller accommodation in Northern Ireland to cater for the needs of Irish Travellers;

2. Adopt appropriate legislation protecting and promoting the Irish language and take measures to ensure progress on language rights of persons belonging to the Irish minority; the UK Government should engage in a dialogue to create the political consensus needed for adopting legislation;

3. Endeavour to implement the ‘good relations’ duty as provided under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in a manner that does not run counter to the equality duty and that does not prevent access to rights of persons belonging to all national and ethnic minorities.


10 Mar 2017

International Women’s Day 2017: NIHRC visits Shankill Women’s Centre

Home » News

NI Human Rights Commission visits Shankill Women’s Centre for International Women’s Day

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission visited members of Shankill Women’s Centre on Thursday morning to celebrate International Women’s Day 2017.

The event was attended by Commissioners, Alan McBride and Christine Collins, who gave an overview of the Commission’s work before answering questions from attendees.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“We are delighted to engage with Shankill Women’s Centre, particularly as the visit coincides with International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is ‘Be Bold For Change’, and we want to acknowledge the vital role that the Shankill Women’s Centre has played for individuals in the local community since it was formed in 1987. Our Commissioners enjoyed hearing about the extremely valuable and innovative work of the Shankill Women’s Centre, as well as talking about the issues that are affecting members at present.”

The Commission’s visit was to mark International Women’s Day, which fell on Wednesday 8th March. International Women’s Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women - as well as calling for gender parity. The theme for 2017 is ‘Be Bold For Change’.

The visit took place at Small Wonders Childcare on Craven Street, and ran from 10am to 12:30pm.


09 Mar 2017

The Implications of Brexit for Human Rights

Home » News

The Chief Commissioner Les Allamby joins a panel discussion on the implications of Brexit for Human Rights under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement today. The event will be opened by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charles Flanagan T.D.

Speaking in relation to the Good Friday Agreement Mr Allamby added:

“Human rights protection has been the cornerstone of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and subsequent agreements. The Commission recommends that the Northern Ireland Office work towards developing a consensus among the political parties on a Bill of Rights and meet its commitment to implement a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland”.

Whilst leaving the European Union will not have an impact on the European Convention on Human Rights, the impact of a UK exit from the European Union is uncertain and how such an exit would impact on the human rights is similarly uncertain.

Speaking in relation to the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union Mr Allamby added:

“The Commission recommends that the UK government ensures there is no regression in the protection of human rights as a consequence of exiting the European Union. It calls upon the NI Executive and NI Assembly to build a political consensus and work to mitigate the risk of there being any detrimental affects on the current rights and benefits afforded to those residing in NI.”

For more information on the human rights implications of leaving the EU, see the Commission’s Factsheet.

A PDF version of the Factsheet is available on request.


13 Feb 2017

NIHRC seeks to recruit new Chief Executive

Home » News

​The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is seeking to recruit a new Chief Executive. The Commission is seeking to fill a top management post and invites applications from experienced people ready to face the exciting challenge of promoting and protecting human rights in Northern Ireland. The closing date for receipt of applications for the post is 1:00pm on Wednesday 22 February 2017. For details of the role and to apply, click here.


03 Feb 2017

NIHRC visits Newry and Downpatrick

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission enjoyed a very successful visit to Newry and Downpatrick on Monday, to engage with local representatives and organisations. Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, attended meetings with Commissioners, Marion Reynolds, Christine Collins and Alan McBride, as part of the Commission’s ongoing community engagement programme.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“We would like to thank all those who attended our recent meetings in Newry and Downpatrick. We were impressed by the commitment of the police officers, the voluntary and community sector, and local elected representatives to their local community and the delivery of public services. We took on board local concerns including those around rural access to services such as health care, housing and suicide prevention services. It allows us to be aware of the critical issues in the community which we can then factor in to our work and priorities for the future.”

The visit began with a meeting with Superintendent Paul Reid, the District Commander for Newry, Mourne & Down. This was attended by the Superintendent’s senior management team and local officers, who briefed the Commission on the issues being faced by the local police service.

Commissioners also met with local community groups at Downshire Civic Centre. Among the groups present were Citizens Advice Bureau, Space NI, NI Housing Community Network, Mulholland Aftercare Services, Public Initiative for the Prevention of Suicide & Self-Harm, Downe & Daisy Hill Hospital Campaigns, Harmony Community Trust/Glebe House and representatives from the local ethnic minority community.

Following the meeting, Commissioners met with Councillors of Newry, Mourne & Down District Council, where they were welcomed by the Chair, Gillian Fitzpatrick. The meeting covered a diverse range of issues, including the potential impact of Brexit, the rights of ex-prisoners and their ability to access work and travel, and the importance of protecting victims’ rights. The vulnerability of migrants in Northern Ireland was also raised.

After hearing from Councillors, Commissioners briefed attendees on the current work of the Human Rights Commission - highlighting the legal clinic that is open to the public every Wednesday; the Commission’s ongoing investigation into traveller accommodation; and its commitment to promoting and protecting the rights of everyone in Northern Ireland.


02 Feb 2017

Annual Lecture with Philippe Sands QC

Home » News

​We held our 2017 Annual Lecture on Tuesday 17th January with renowned broadcaster and practicing barrister, Philippe Sands QC, as our guest speaker.

Kindly hosted by the Bar Library, lecture was based on theme of ‘East meets West - a personal history of genocide and crimes against humanity,’ based on Philippe’s recently published memoir ‘East West Street’, winner of the 2016 Baillie Gifford prize for non-fiction.

Watch the introduction to our Annual Lecture, as delivered by Lord Chief Justice, Sir Declan Morgan, here:

Watch the address by Philippe Sands QC in full below:

View these videos and more on our YouTube channel.


20 Jan 2017

NI Human Rights Commission launches Annual Statement 2016

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is launching its Annual Statement on Thursday 8 December and is delighted to welcome the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Privacy Professor Joseph Cannataci, as the key note speaker at the event. He will be speaking on: ‘Privacy, The Right to Silence and your Mobile Phone’.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, said:

“We are delighted to welcome the UN Special Rapporteur and his visit is especially timely. This year our Annual Statement charts some welcome progress in Northern Ireland. We have a given a green light to the extension on eligibility to donate blood and the publication of the racial equality strategy. However we clearly have some way to go to improve our laws, as highlighted by issuing a red light on termination of pregnancy and civil marriage for same sex couples. On international issues the N.I Executive needs to do more to play its full role within the United Nations human rights system. On local issues, resources and commitment are needed to continue on dealing with the past. The Commission will continue to play its part to promote and protect everyone in Northern Ireland and in launching this report today we want the N.I Executive to take stock of the content and start bringing about change”.


ENDS

For further information please contact Claire Martin on Claire.Martin@nihrc.org or 0771 7731873 (mobile).

Notes to editors

1. The launch of the Annual Statement 2016 will take place at Room 115 from 10.30am-12.30pm. It is being sponsored by the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Robin Newton MBE, MLA.

2. Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy Professor Joseph Cannataci is the newest United Nations Special Rapporteur. He has written extensively on issues of privacy in a digital age and commented on global issues as well as recent developments within the United Kingdom. He is the Head of the Department of Information Policy & Governance at the Faculty of Media & Knowledge Sciences of the University of Malta. He also holds the Chair of European Information Policy & Technology Law within the Faculty of Law at the University of Groningen where he co-founded the STeP Research Group. He has written books and articles on data protection law, liability for expert systems, legal aspects of medical informatics, copyright in computer software and co-authored various papers and textbook chapters on self-regulation and the Internet, the EU Constitution and data protection, on-line dispute resolution, data retention and police data. His latest book “The Individual & Privacy” is published by Ashgate (March 2015)

3. The 2016 Annual Statement contains a traffic lights system with the aim of making the document more accessible to readers.

· Green identifies a subject that has been acknowledged as requiring action to protect human rights in NI and an effective response has been provided by the UK Government, NI Executive or relevant public authorities. A firm commitment to address the matter will have been demonstrated and undertaken.

· Amber identifies a subject that requires action by the UK Government, NI Executive or relevant public authorities. The issue may not be at a level that constitutes an ongoing violation or abuse of human rights. Initial steps toward providing an effective response could have already been taken or the necessity of taking action acknowledged by the relevant body. Such actions may have commenced but are not yet completed.

· Red identifies a subject that requires immediate action by the UK Government, NI Executive or relevant public authorities and the issue may be an ongoing violation or abuse of human rights.

4. List of outcomes categorised by traffic light system in NIHRC 2016 Annual Statement:

Green

1. Eligibility to donate blood (Pg.14)

2. Racial Equality Strategy (Pg.18)

3. Prison Ombudsman (Pg26)

4. Public Services Ombudsperson Bill (Pg.50)

5. Housing (Anti-social Behaviour) Act 2016 (Pg.53)

6. Supported lodgings for young adults (Pg.77)

Amber

1. Consolidating, strengthening and clarifying equality protections (Pg.12)

2. Age discrimination (Pg.13)

3. Extension of civil marriage to same sex couples (Pg.14)

4. Gender equality strategy (Pg.15)

5. Hate crimes (Pg.15)

6. Intersectional multiple discrimination (Pg.17)

7. Persons with disabilities (Pg.17)

8. Religious tolerance (Pg.17)

9. Sectarianism (Pg.19)

10. Sexual Orientation Strategy (Pg.20)

11. Inquiries Act 2005 (Pg.24)

12. Rule of law: non-state actors (Pg.24)

13. Alternatives to imprisonment (Pg.27)

14. Imprisonment for fine default (Pg.28)

15. Women in Prison (Pg.29)

16. Imprisonment of children with adults (Pg.29)

17. Definition of terrorism (Pg. 31)

18. Powers of arrest under the Terrorism Act 2000 (Pg.32)

19. Prison review and conditions (Pg.33)

20. Strip searches.(Pg.34)

21. Abuse in health and social care settings (Pg.35)

22. Historical abuse of children and adults (Pg.35)

23. Domestic violence (Pg.36)

24. Allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment overseas (Pg.38)

25. Deprivation of citizenship (Pg.39)

26. Mechanisms to identify victims of torture detained in immigration facilities(Pg. 40)

27. Female genital mutilation (Pg.41)

28. Syrian refugee crisis (Pg.42.)

29. Child sexual exploitation (Pg.44)

30. Human Trafficking (Pg.46)

31. Avoidable delay(Pg.47)

32. Witness Charter (Pg.47)

33. Compensation for a miscarriage of justice (Pg.48)

34. Closed material proceedings (Pg.49)

35. Access to Justice (Pg.49)

36. Alternatives care arrangements for children (Pg.51)

37. Stop and search (Pg.52)

38. Environmental Regulation (Pg.53)

39. Health and Social Care (Control of Data Processing) Act 2016 (Pg.54)

40. Parades and protests (Pg.55)

41. Participation of women in public and political life (Pg.56)

42. Blasphemy (Pg.57)

43. Defamation(Pg.38)

44. Accessible childcare (Pg.59)

45. Armed Forces Covenant (Pg.60)

46. Social security (Pg.62)

47. Social housing (Pg.63)

48. Homelessness (Pg.66)

49. Travellers accommodation (Pg.69)

50. Unauthorised Encampments (NI) Order 2005 (Pg.71)

51. Child poverty strategy (Pg.73)

52. Reduction in asylum financial support (Pg.74)

53. Crisis fund (Pg.76)

54. Carers (Pg.77)

55. Emergency healthcare (Pg.78)

56. Mental capacity (Pg.81)

57. Access to healthcare for irregular migrants (Pg.82)

58. Integrated education (Pg.84)

59. Shared education (Pg.85)

60. Academic selection (Pg.86)

61. Educational needs of Traveller children (Pg.87)

62. Special educational need (Pg.87)

63. Bullying in Schools (Pg.88)

64. The Irish language and Ulster Scots (Pg.90)

65. A Bill of Rights for NI (Pg.93)

66. A UK Bill of Rights (Pg.93)

67. A Charter of Rights for the island of Ireland (Pg.94)

68. National human rights institution (Pg.95)

69. UK membership of the European Union (Pg.95)

Red

1. Conflict related deaths: transitional justice and individual cases (Pg.21)

2. Legacy inquests and inquiries (Pg. 23)

3. The remand of children (Pg. 23)

4. Corporal punishment of children (Pg.43)

5. Child, early and forced marriage (Pg.45)

6. Age of criminal responsibility (Pg.50)

7. Anti- Poverty Strategy (Pg.72)

8. Termination of Pregnancy (Pg.79)

5. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


08 Dec 2016

More Protection Needed to Eliminate Violence Against Women

Home » News

In marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (25 November 2016) the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission calls on the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to strengthen its human rights protections and ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (The Istanbul Convention).

Statistics collated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland record that domestic violence has increased in Northern Ireland in the last year.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“There have been over 28,000 incidents of domestic violence in Northern Ireland over the past year alone, which includes violence against both men and women in the family or domestic unit. Nevertheless, it should not be overlooked that the majority of victims of domestic violence are women and that domestic violence against them is part of a wider pattern of discrimination and inequality”.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby added:

“Violence against women includes stalking, sexual harassment, sexual violence (including rape), physical, and psychological abuse at the hands of intimate partners, forced marriage, and forced sterilisation. These are all are deeply traumatising acts of violence and we should always seek to do more to ensure our protections reach the highest level of human rights standards. We are therefore calling on the UK Government and the N.I Executive to ratify the Istanbul Convention so that it can be implemented into domestic law, policy, and practice”.

ENDS

For further information:

For further information please contact: Claire Martin on 07717731873 or 02890 243987 or on claire.martin@nihrc.org

24 November 2016

Notes to editors:

1. Watch our short video with Women’s Aid: Every Day Rights in the Community; Domestic Abuse here:

2. Statistics collated by the Police Service of Northern Ireland record that domestic violence has increased year on year since 2004/05, with the exception of two decreases recorded, a 1.6 percent decrease between 2006/07 and 2007/08 and a 7.3 per cent decrease between 2009/10 and 2010/11. The figure of 28,465 incidents for July 2015 to June 2016 is the highest level recorded since 2004/05, and shows an increase of 0.3 per cent on the 2014/15 figure of 28,392. Of the 28,465 incidents recorded in the twelve months to 30 June 2016, 12,657 incidents contained one or more crimes (amounting to 14,220 recorded crimes in total). Access the PSNI Statistics here

3. The Council of Europe Convention (Istanbul Convention) on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence increases protections for men and women, as it is not only women and girls who suffer domestic violence. Parties to the Convention are encouraged to apply the protective framework it creates to men who are exposed to violence within the family or domestic unit.

4. The UK Government has signed the Council of Europe Convention,(the Istanbul Convention), on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence but not yet ratified it.

5. Find out more about what ratification means at: http://ask.un.org/faq/14594

6. The UN CEDAW in its 2013 Concluding Observations on the UK recommended that the UK ‘ratify the Istanbul Convention’. The UN CRC in its 2016 Concluding Observations on the UK also recommended ‘ratifying the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence’.

7. Read the full: Istanbul Convention

8. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) pursuant to section 69(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights.


24 Nov 2016

New research to uncover impact of going to court without a lawyer

Home » News

Ulster University and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission have secured almost £220,000 to fund an in-depth study that will, for the first time, reveal the extent to which people represent themselves in court hearings and how this impacts on the justice system and the courts.

The two-year study, which is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is the first of its kind in the civil and family courts in Northern Ireland.

The research will explore why people represent themselves in court, the experience they have without legal representation, the impact this has on the courts and the human rights issues that are at stake. The areas of interest include family proceedings, family homes and domestic violence, divorce, civil bills and bankruptcy.

The research will also trial a legal support clinic based at the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The clinic will provide basic legal support to help individuals understand and navigate court proceedings. The research will then compare the experiences of people who are legally unrepresented who receive this procedural advice with those unrepresented people who do not receive any.

Dr Grainne McKeever from Ulster University’s School of Law said: “Many people who are involved in legal proceedings do not have legal representation and bring or defend their case by themselves. This research project is a perfect fit for Ulster University with our world-leading reputation for legal research excellence and particularly access to justice. It will help us to understand how a lack of legal advice impacts on an individual’s right to access justice and identify any difficulties that in turn impact the court system.

“This is a crucial access to justice and human rights issue that will be of critical importance as decisions are taken on publicly funded legal aid. Ulster University’s research aims to understand the challenges facing the court system in delivering access to justice for unrepresented individuals and identify how these individuals can be supported.”

Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented: “This is an exciting piece of research for the Human Rights Commission. We want to understand what it is like to go to court alone and if there is anything that can be done to improve this experience. Ultimately we want to ensure that our justice process treats people without lawyers fairly.”

For further information onparticipating in this confidential research go to www.ulster.ac.uk/law/lipni


18 Oct 2016

Details of 2016 Annual Statement Launch announced

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is delighted to announce the details of our Annual Statement Launch, which takes place on Thursday 8 December.

This year’s keynote speaker is Professor Joseph Cannataci, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, and he will speak on ‘Privacy, the right to silence and your mobile phone: why new legislation may be too much and too little’.

Following on from the success of last year’s launch, which welcomed journalist and Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow to Stormont, the Commission is anticipating a great amount of interest in Professor Cannataci’s address.

If you wish to attend the launch, please visit our Eventbrite site and submit your RSVP at: bit.ly/2d8Fzgg


14 Oct 2016

Anti–Slavery Agenda for local Business & Human Rights Forum

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Business and Human Rights Forum meets today to examine the steps Northern Ireland businesses are taking to protect and respect human rights.The focus of the October meeting will be on Modern Slavery. Forum members will hear presentations from Aidan McQuade, Director of Anti-Slavery International.

Chair of; the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

”We are welcoming seven new businesses to the Forum today, including four from the agri-food sector. The Forum is an excellent opportunity for businesses to showcase their best practice in ethical trading and engage with experts on how to prevent human rights abuses. Many local businesses understand the value of human rights and we are delighted that local businesses are leading the way in adopting human rights policies and practices.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. The event will be held at 10am on Thursday 6 October at Clare House.

2. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a National Human Rights Institution. It is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

3. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is the current chair of the Business and Human Rights Forum, and provides the Secretariat.

4. The Northern Ireland Business and Human Rights Forum was established in 2015 to share information and good practice amongst businesses. The forum has members from businesses (large and SMEs), NGOs, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

5. The work of the forum follows the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. More details are available here


06 Oct 2016

Anti-racism experts highlight issues of concern in N.I

Home » News

Alongside several positive developments, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has highlighted a number of areas of concern in its latest report on the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission contributed to the research and welcomes the publication of the report.

The report underlines that there is no national strategy for the integration of Roma, Gypsies and Travellers in the UK and these communities continue to suffer severe disadvantage.

Northern Ireland Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“We commend the Commission for its comprehensive report. It is both timely and serves as a reminder of the gaps that exist in Northern Ireland particularly in relation to Gypsies and Traveller protection and LGBT rights. We will take this into account given our own ongoing investigation into Traveller Accommodation in Northern Ireland.”

It makes a total of 23 different recommendations to the UK government, the most pressing of which is its recommendation that the authorities of Northern Ireland consolidate equality legislation into a single, comprehensive equality act, taking inspiration from the Equality Act 2010.

Notes to editors

1. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) is a human rights body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts, which monitors problems of racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination on grounds such as “race”, national/ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion and language (racial discrimination); it prepares reports and issues recommendations to member States.

2. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) report, including Government observations, is available here. It was prepared following ECRI’s visit to the United Kingdom in November 2015 [Press release] and takes account of developments between 2009 and 17 March 2016.

3. N.I specific recommendations contained within the report include:

  1. ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities draw up, in consultation with Gypsy, Traveller and Roma groups, a detailed programme of integration strategies and measures to address the disadvantage suffered by all three of these communities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including concrete targets, timeframes, and resources, in all areas of daily life, such as education, employment, health care and accommodation, in particular addressing the shortage of caravan sites.
  2. ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities of Northern Ireland consolidate equality legislation into a single, comprehensive equality act, taking inspiration from the Equality Act 2010.
  3. ECRI recommends that a refugee integration strategy is developed in England and Northern Ireland to assist newly-arrived refugees, in particular as concerns housing, employment, access to welfare and learning English, and that refugee integration is systematically evaluated.
  4. ECRI strongly recommends that the authorities review the legal aid and fees regime with a view to improving access to justice in discrimination in employment cases.
  5. ECRI recommends that legislation is enacted in Northern Ireland providing for protection from discrimination on grounds of gender identity.
  6. ECRI calls upon all political parties to take a firm stand against intolerant discourse and instruct their representatives to refrain from making derogatory comments targeting a group of persons on grounds of their “race”, religion, citizenship, language, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.

05 Oct 2016

Human Rights Commission to visit Derry City & Strabane District Council

Home » News

Human Rights Commission to Visit Derry City & Strabane District Council

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will hold a series of meetings in the Derry City & Strabane District Council Area, on Thursday 29 September, as part of its on-going community visits across Northern Ireland. Commissioners and staff will meet with local Councillors, the PSNI and local community representatives to discuss matters affecting the local area.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, said:

“We are delighted to be visiting Derry City & Strabane District Council. We will be providing updates on our ongoing investigation into Traveller Accommodation and also on the progress from our Inquiry into Accident and Emergency Care which has led to pioneering work with a number of health and social care trusts. Our work is wide-ranging covering business and human rights locally through to responding to international human rights treaty bodies as to what is happening on the ground in Northern Ireland. We really want to hear first- hand what human rights issues are facing local groups and citizens. Commissioners find these invaluable opportunities as they assist us in planning our future work priorities.”

The Mayor of Derry City & Strabane District Council Alderman Hilary McClintock welcoming the Human Rights Commissioner to the city and district said it was an excellent opportunity for the public to hear at first hand the work the Commission does to help protect and promote the rights of everyone in Northern Ireland.

“I would encourage the public to come along and attend the meetings and find out about the work of the Commission and get an update on the work they are doing across Northern Ireland to ensure all organisations are working in line with human rights standards,” she said.


28 Sep 2016

Prioritise Human Rights in the Programme for Government

Home » News

As the Northern Ireland Assembly begins its new term this week the Human Rights Commission has published advice on the Northern Ireland Programme for Government which identifies human rights priorities for the Executive and Assembly.

The Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

“The Commission has provided this advice in preparation of Government Ministers and MLAs returning for the new term and we welcome the outcomes and impact rated approach. A draft programme for government was published in May. The Commission has identified 49 issues that would help deliver the government’s outcomes. These issues include; a single equality act, age discrimination legislation, a gender equality strategy, implementing the Stormont House Agreement, addressing termination of pregnancy, raising the age of criminal responsibility, ending child marriage, building a women’s prison. The list is long and making it shorter by 2021 should be the goal of all elected representatives. We will work with the Assembly to ensure that human rights are made a priority for all.”

ENDS

For further information:

For further information please contact: Claire Martin on 02890 243987 or on claire.martin@nihrc.org

Notes to editors:

1. Access the Commission’s advice here

2. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


08 Sep 2016

Investigation of Travellers’ Accommodation

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has today announced that it is investigating the issue of Travellers Accommodation. The Commission completed a scoping exercise in June 2016 which identified significant human rights concerns on a potentially systemic level. On the basis of that exercise it concluded that a human rights examination of this issue is necessary. The Commission will publish its findings in the autumn of 2017.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“We know that research has shown that a quarter of Travellers residing in Northern Ireland have reported their place of residence to be unhealthy or very unhealthy, and many have also concerns about safety. A lack of footpaths, public lighting, fire hydrants, play areas, plumbing, washing facilities, electricity and refuse management are just some of the issues described. A Housing Executive needs assessment has also outlined the need for appropriate accommodation for Travellers.

The Northern Ireland Executive and other public authorities are required by human rights law to fulfill the right to adequate housing and must ensure non-discrimination. Examining these aspects in relation to Travellers accommodation will be the principal focus of the Commission’s investigation.”

Fieldwork will take place throughout Northern Ireland between October and December 2016. The Commission has sent notification seeking access to information from public authorities including the Department for Infrastructure, the Department for Communities, Local Councils and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Planning Appeals Commission. In addition, members of the Travelling Community and those delivering support services will be asked for their assistance.

If you have any query or would like to participate in the investigation, please contact the Commission’s investigation team on info@nihrc.org or on 02890243987.

ENDS

For further information please contact: Claire Martin or 02890 243987 or on claire.martin@nihrc.org

Notes to editors:

1. Read the full terms of reference for the investigation here.

2. The Investigation will focus on a number of areas in respect of Traveller accommodation in line with standards outlined in international human rights law:

• Legal Security of tenure: whether Traveller accommodation in Northern Ireland respects human rights standards in respect of security of tenure and protection against forced eviction, harassment and other threats;

• Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: whether Traveller accommodation includes access to services essential for health, security, comfort and nutrition. These include sanitation, safe drinking water, washing facilities, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, refuse disposal, site drainage and emergency services;

• Affordability: whether Traveller accommodation costs are at a financial level that the attainment and satisfaction of other basic needs are not threatened or compromised;

• Habitability: whether Traveller accommodation is habitable and provides physical safety and protection from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health, structural hazards and disease vectors;

• Accessibility: whether Traveller accommodation is fully and sustainably accessible without discrimination to those entitled to it and takes into account housing needs;

• Location: whether Traveller accommodation is free from pollution and allows access to employment options, healthcare, schools and childcare centres and other social centres; and

• Cultural Adequacy: whether Traveller accommodation in its construction, building materials and the policies supporting these enable the expression of cultural identity and diversity of housing.

• Participation: whether Travellers have been extensively and genuinely consulted on the provision of Traveller accommodation. This includes involving the Traveller community, associations and representations at the earliest stages in the development and implementation of the policies and programmes affecting them. There also must be sufficient transparency about policies and programmes related to Traveller accommodation.

• Remedy: whether Travellers have an effective remedy regarding decisions in relation to accommodation.

• Monitoring: whether effective monitoring of the situation with respect to Traveller accommodation taken place. This includes whether appropriate indicators and benchmarks are used and appropriately disaggregated.

3. Press Statement Research References: Safa Abdella et al, ‘Our Geels: All Ireland Traveller Health Study’ (UCD, 2010), at 46; NICEM, ‘The Annual Human Rights and Racial Equality Benchmarking Report 2013/14’ (OFMDFM, 2014), at 96: A quarter of Traveller respondents residing in Northern Ireland consider their place of residence to be unhealthy or very unhealthy, with 29 percent describing their residence as unsafe.

4. For the purposes of this investigation ‘Travellers’ are defined as members of the Irish Traveller community, a “community of people commonly so called who are identified (both by themselves and by others) as people with a shared history, culture and traditions including, historically, a nomadic way of life on the island of Ireland”.

5. The right to an adequate standard of living:

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment No 4: The Right to Adequate Housing’, 13 December 1991, at para 8: Fulfilling each person’s right to adequate housing in Northern Ireland requires the Northern Ireland Executive and other relevant public authorities to ensure “legal security of tenure”, “availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure”, “affordability’, “habitability”, “accessibility” and “cultural adequacy”. Broadly defined, the right to adequate housing is “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.

6. The Commission completed a scoping exercise in June 2016; taking into account completed work on Traveller accommodation in Northern Ireland. The scoping exercise identified significant human rights concerns on a potentially systemic level. On the basis of that exercise, we concluded that a human rights examination of this issue is necessary.

7. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


06 Sep 2016

Improve N.I Record on Race Discrimination

Home » News

30 August 2016

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has welcomed a recent report by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Whilst welcoming some positive steps such as the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme across the UK, the Committee’s report outlines a number of concerns relating to race discrimination in Northern Ireland.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

“The report recognised the recent sharp increase in racist hate crimes in the UK following the EU referendum and the need to tackle racist hate crime. The Committee has also called on the UK Government, to improve its human rights record in relation to Traveller accommodation in Northern Ireland. It has highlighted the disparity in equality protection between N.I and the rest of the UK, calling for a Single Equality Bill to address this problem. We raised these concerns directly with the Committee in July and welcome that they have been incorporated into the UN report. We now need action to be taken by the N.I Executive to tackle these important issues and improve the quality of life and experiences of people from minority ethnic backgrounds in Northern Ireland.”

The UN Committee welcomed positive aspects across the UK including the:

1. Racial Equality Strategy 2015 – 2025 in Northern Ireland, in December 2015;

2. Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme across the United Kingdom and the Refugee Asylum Seeker Delivery Plan in Wales, in March 2016;

However the Committee listed a number of concerns specific to Northern Ireland, recommending that the State Party (UK Government & N.I Executive) to:

1. Investigate all reported acts of racist hate crimes, prosecute and punish the perpetrators with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the offence, and provide effective remedies to victims;

2. Develop a comprehensive strategy, in consultation with members of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities, to ensure a systematic and coherent approach in addressing the challenges that they continue to face in the fields of health, education, housing and employment, and ensure its effective implementation by adopting specific action plans and effective oversight and monitoring mechanisms to track progress, with adequate human and financial resources;

3. The UN Committee reiterated its concern that the Equality Act 2010 does not apply to Northern Ireland, where comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation has yet to be adopted. The Committee recommends that the State party (UK Government & N.I Executive) ensure that the authorities of Northern Ireland act without further delay to adopt comprehensive legislation prohibiting racial discrimination.

ENDS

Further information:

Please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987).

Notes to editors

1. The Committee’s report on its examination of the UK is available here.

2. Access the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s full report to the Committee here.

3. The Commission’s July 2016 submission was presented before the Committee in Geneva in August regarding the UK’s 21st to 23rd Periodic Reports under the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

4. Since the UK referendum on membership of the EU, there has been a spike in reported hate crimes in England. Concerns have been raised that this will follow in Northern Ireland and there have been some reported instances such as the spraying of swastika on a foreign national’s home. The First and Deputy First Minister issued a press statement to reassure the migrant community in NI that they are welcome and valued.

5. In its own report to the UN Committee, the N.I Human Rights Commission advised that the Committee should ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive to:

1. Take steps to ensure that the housing rights of Travellers are fully compliant with the Convention. The Commission is concerned that the Unauthorised Encampments (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 remains in force, despite previous concerns expressed by the Committee on the discriminatory effect of the legislation. The adequacy of accommodation is also a key concern, with evidence of lack of basis amenities reported. Concerns were raised in 2014 by NICEM noting that a lack of plumbing and washing facilities was common, concerns were also raised around no electricity and inadequate or non-existent refuge management.

6. The N.I Human Rights Commission also advised that the UN Committee should ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive to:

a. Bill of Rights: Consider whether the UK Government has taken measures to progress the Bill of Rights for NI. The Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland has not progressed by the UK government since the Commission provided its advice in 2008 as there remains a lack of political consensus.

b. Proposed Repeal of Human Rights Act: The Commission has also raised its concerns with the Committee about proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention of Human Rights into domestic law. Specific to Northern Ireland, the ECHR forms part of the peace settlement under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement 1998. The Commission has advised that any replacement must ensure effective protection across all the jurisdictions of the UK.

c. In response, the UN Committee in its report outlined that it is concerned that the proposal to replace the Human Rights Act of 1998 with a new British Bill of Rights may lead to decreased levels of human rights protection in the State party (UK Government & N.I Executive), which would negatively affect the situation of individuals protected under article 1 of the Convention. It also reiterates its concern that no progress has been made to adopt a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland, as agreed under the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement of 1998 (arts. 2 and 6).

d. The UN Committee recommends that the State party (UK Government & N.I Executive) undertake meaningful and broad public consultation on its proposal to revise its human rights legislation and ensure that any changes to the current human rights framework strengthens the protection of human rights, and in particular the rights of individuals protected under article 1 of the Convention. It also recommends that the State party expedite the process of adopting the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, and ensure that it is in line with the provisions of the Convention and other international human rights standards.

7. The Commission is one of the three ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institutions in the UK. As a National Human Rights Institution the NIHRC engages with and reports to the United Nations’ and Council of Europe’s treaty monitoring processes.

8. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland (NI).


30 Aug 2016

Leaving the European Union – the rights implications

Home » News

Guest piece by Chief Commissioner Les Allamby for the Public Interest Law Alliance (PILA) Leaving the European Union – the rights implications

The outcome of the European Referendum in the United Kingdom has enormous political, economic and social implications. There remains, however, considerable uncertainty as to what those ramifications will be. This article explores the implications for human rights of the UK’s withdrawal of the European Union.

One immediate impact has been on the plans to consult on the repeal of the Human Rights Act and its replacement with a British Bill of Rights. The consultation document has been completed and the send button was ready to be pressed based on a vote to remain. Instead the consultation has been put on hold until after the new Conservative leader/prime minister is in post. Already the front runner Theresa May, the current Home Secretary has softened her stance saying if elected she will not withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights. As late as April 2016 Theresa May was insisting on withdrawal. The Convention overseen by the Council of Europe and enforced by the European Court of Human Rights is of course entirely separate from the European Union. Nonetheless, membership of the European Union carries with it certain human rights obligations.

The referendum result will have no immediate impact on the UK being required to meet its human rights and other European Union related obligations including in the fields of equality, employment, social security and free movement rights. The referendum outcome will almost certainly be debated in the Westminster Parliament and the UK government has to trigger its withdrawal under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by notifying the EU Council. From this period, the negotiations for withdrawal can formally begin for a period of up to two years. Currently, a political stand-off is in place as to whether informal negotiations will begin prior to the triggering of the Article 50 mechanism to withdraw. In effect, the earliest the UK will leave the EU and its legal obligations is late 2018 – it may of course turn out to be much later if Article 50 is not swiftly invoked.

At this point the UK government could repeal the European Communities Act 1972 which provides that all UK legislation including primary legislation is subject to directly applicable European Union law. In the Factortame case the (then) House of Lords confirmed that EU law prevailed over conflicting UK domestic legislation. In practice, an exercise will need to be undertaken to decide what legislation will be amended or repealed based on it originally being implemented to meet European Law requirements.

All member states have signed up to the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Charter was given legal status in 2007 through the Lisbon Treaty and introduced in December 2009. The Charter complements the European Convention and recognises at Article 52(3) that where Charter rights correspond to Convention rights the meaning and scope of the rights are the same as those laid down by the Convention. This provision does not prevent European Union law providing more expansive protection. The scope the of Charter is narrower than the Convention in that it applies the convention rights to public bodies only when they make decisions within the scope of EU Law. Moreover, the Charter has not been incorporated into domestic law through the Human Rights Act. However, in other respects the Charter offers greater scope through enforcement at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The CJEU can disapply national law and provide compulsory remedies for damages. In contrast, breaches of Convention rights in primary legislation can lead to a declaration of incompatibility leaving any remedy to parliament. Moreover, the Strasbourg court’s remedy of damages is a discretionary one. The failure to implement Strasbourg court decisions from (Hirst v UK onwards) in the case of the blanket legislative ban on prisoners voting is a long-standing example of Westminster Parliament defying the Strasbourg court. The Charter itself also goes beyond the Convention in outlining social and economic rights alongside civil and political rights under the headings of dignity, freedom, equality, solidarity, citizen’s rights and justice. Leaving the European Union is likely to mean no longer being subject to the EU charter.

Elsewhere European Union directives have created important rights for people within the United Kingdom. Employment rights developed significantly due to European legislation and CJEU case law. The end to automatic dismissal of people for reaching a compulsory retirement age stemmed from a European Directive. Other directives created equal treatment in access to social security benefits, occupational pension schemes, access to training and promotion and access to and supply of goods and services.

Secondary legislation has set standards for treatment of asylum seekers, dealing with human trafficking, combatting child sexual abuse and exploitation and victims rights. There is also a focus on special safeguards for child suspects which require that all children must be provided with a lawyer – a right that could previously be waived under domestic legislation.

Further, the question of social security entitlement for cross-border workers has been resolved through European Union legislation which determines which Member State has the responsibility for paying benefits and the recognition of social security insurance contributions paid elsewhere within the EU and the exporting of benefits. The options here are to seek a bilateral agreement with individual European countries an approach broadly adopted by Switzerland. Alternatively, an EU wide deal could be negotiated which is much closer to the position of Norway and its relationship with the EU. This is one of a number of issues, that has particular significance for the relationship between the UK and Ireland

It is clear that people derive significant rights as a result of being within the European Union. How many of these rights will be maintained once the United Kingdom government negotiates its way out of the European Union remains to be seen.

Notes to Editors

1. This Article was published on 06 July 2016 for PILA. It is available here

2. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has an information note on the rights issues affected by membership of the European Union available here.


14 Jul 2016

Challenge to Termination of Pregnancy Laws at Court of Appeal

Home » News

The Human Rights Commission’s legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s termination of pregnancy laws will be heard at the Court of Appeal. The Appeal hearing began on Monday 20 June

“It is unfortunate that this case has been brought to Appeal by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. The Commission won its Judicial Review of Termination of Pregnancy Laws in November 2015 when the High Court found in our favour that our current law is incompatible with human rights.”

The Commission is cross- appealing and will re-introduce all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court. It is calling for the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of foetus (including fatal foetal abnormality), rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so, to be made available in Northern Ireland.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby:

“We are committed to protecting and upholding human rights standards in line with our statutory mandate. Each day that passes is another day in which women and girls face the most difficult of personal circumstances and have their human rights violated. Our local elected representatives need to implement the necessary reforms to comply with human rights standards.”

ENDS

Further information:

Please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987).

Notes to editors

Please check the court listings for confirmation here.

FACT SHEET ON THE NIHRC CASE

Recent Developments in International Human Rights include:

1. Human Rights Law has developed alongside the Commission’s case on Termination of Pregnancy Laws in N.I. The Commission will update the Court on the following:

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its report on the United Kingdom on 9 June 2016. The Committee has called on the UK Government to:

Decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland in all circumstances and a review of legislation with a view to ensuring girls’ access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services. Read the UNCRC Concluding Observations here:

Who are the parties in the Appeal?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General.

Though not parties to the appeal, additional written submissions to the court have been made by Amnesty International, Sarah Ewart, the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, the Northern Bishops and Precious Life.

The Appeal

In November 2015, the Belfast High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that our current law is incompatible with human rights. The Department of Justice and Attorney General are appealing the judgment. The Commission is cross-appealing.

The November 2015 High Court Ruling

The High Court held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family and private life was breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes. The Judgment in this case can be found here.

When did this case begin?

The Commission first initiated its judicial review of the termination of pregnancy laws in 2014.

What were the grounds of the original case?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission asked the Court to declare that the current law, relating to access to termination of pregnancy services for women in cases of serious malformation of the foetus, including fatal foetal abnormality and pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, is incompatible with human rights law and results in a breach of the rights of women and girls seeking a termination of pregnancy in these circumstances.

Termination of Pregnancy in N.I

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The doctor must be of the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a “physical or mental wreck”: R v. Bourne [1939] KB 687, per Macnaghten J at 694. It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy, under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

1967 Abortion Act

The Commission is not seeking to introduce the Abortion Act 1967 in Northern Ireland and does not engage this law in this legal challenge. The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, including fatal foetal abnormality, rape or incest.

Case Timeline

1. From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls.

2. In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime. A summary of responses can be found here:

3. In the Human Rights Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

4. In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort.

5. 15-17 June 2015-Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court in Belfast. Judgment was reserved at the close of proceedings on 17 June.

6. 30 November 2015- the Belfast High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that our current law is incompatible with human rights.

7. 16 December 2015 -the High Court granted a Declaration of Incompatibility (DOI) under the Human Rights Act. This was based on the law prohibiting termination of pregnancy in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crime being a violation of women’s right to personal autonomy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Belfast High Court
Belfast High Court

Case Facts In forming its view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, at that time, including the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

The legal case stated that Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

6. The Commission is one of the three ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institutions in the UK. As a National Human Rights Institution the NIHRC engages with and reports to the United Nations’ and Council of Europe’s treaty monitoring processes.

7. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland (NI).


17 Jun 2016

Northern Ireland Homelessness highlighted at the UN

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has published its report to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It will be presented this week in Geneva during the Committee’s examination of the United Kingdom. The Commission’s report addresses a range of issues including Homelessness, Accessible Childcare, Age Discrimination and Cultural Rights

The Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

“Whilst this report to the United Nations interrogates a number of issues, we cannot lose sight of the fact that it is housing in Northern Ireland that takes up the bulk of the findings presented. It is concerning that the rates for statutory homelessness are higher here than anywhere elsewhere in the UK. We must also remember that homelessness goes much further than people living on the streets and covers people having to stay with friends, or living in other transient circumstances.”

Five homeless persons have died on the street in Belfast in early 2016. The Commission’s report highlights recommendations to tackle the issue made by practitioners working in organisations dealing with homelessness including: a need for housing solutions with wraparound support, detox facilities for homeless people, and delivery of specialist support at the point of contact.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby added:

“Homelessness can also be much more than a housing issue. Providing housing stability is a starting point to getting people back on to an even keel. It is clear that efforts are being made by the Northern Ireland Executive through various recent initiatives such as the Ministerial High-Level Group. We acknowledge this, however the Executive must increase emphasis on a joint delivery of services to address the homelessness facing 20,000 households. We also want to ensure no one else dies while living on our streets.”

ENDS

Further information:

Please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987).

Notes to Editors:

The UN Treaty Process

1. The Committee’s examination of the UK will take place at the United Nations offices in Geneva in June 2016. As part of the NIHRC’s engagement with the United Nations and Council of Europe treaty monitoring processes, The Commission is submitting this report in respect of the UK’s Sixth Periodic report on compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Access the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s full report to the Committee on the Commission’s website here.

Housing and other selected recommendations

2. N.I Homelessness Statistics: In 2014/15, 19,621 households presented as homeless to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive an increase of 4 per cent (759) from 50 previous year. The household types with the highest number of homeless presenters in 2014/15 included single males (35 per cent) and families (32 per cent). Of the 19,621 households presenting as homeless in 2014/15, 11,016 (56 per cent) were accepted as Full Duty Applicants (FDAs) and 6,797 were rejected. Of households accepted as FDAs, 3,568 were dealt with in 2014/15. Research has shown that the rates for statutory homeless acceptances are higher in NI than anywhere elsewhere in the UK .In 2012/13, statutory acceptances per 1,000 households in NI ran at 13.4 per cent compared to 11.8 per cent in Scotland, in Wales, 4.2 per cent and 2.3 per cent in England.

3. Accessible Childcare: Unlike the rest of the UK, NI only has a draft childcare strategy and there is no statutory duty on public authorities to ensure adequate childcare. The NIHRC notes that a 2013 report by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on Childcare: Maximising the Economic Participation of Women, emphasised the need for a childcare strategy in light of the “lack of centralised direction” within the NI Executive, as well as the need to “substantially increase” resources.

The N.I Human Rights Commission has advised that the UN Committee may wish to recommend that the State party:

i. prioritises the urgent publication of a Childcare Strategy in NI and dedicates the necessary resources to ensure the availability of accessible and affordable childcare;

ii. ensures a model that operates outside traditional working hours to meet the needs of those working atypical shift patterns, as is the case for many parents in NI, including in particular Black Minority and Ethnic parents.

4. Cultural Rights

Irish Language Act: The N.I Human Rights Commission has recommended that the UN Committee may wish to ask the State Party for an update on the implementation of the Irish language strategy and may wish to recommend that the State party provides the necessary support to progress legislation in order to protect and promote the Irish Language in NI.

Ulster- Scots Strategy: The N.I Human Rights Commission has recommended that the UN Committee may wish to ask the State Party for an update on the establishment of the Ulster Scots Academy and recommend that the State party ensures necessary support including structures are in place to ensure full implementation of the Ulster Scots Strategy in NI.

Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition: The N.I Human Rights Commission has recommended that the UN Committee may wish to ask the State Party for an update on the establishment and work of the Commission on Flags, Identity and Culture in N.I

5. The Commission is one of the three ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institutions in the UK. As a National Human Rights Institution the NIHRC engages with and reports to the United Nations’ and Council of Europe’s treaty monitoring processes.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

6. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland (NI).


14 Jun 2016

UN Calls for Greater Protection of Children’s Rights in NI

Home » News

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has issued its report on the United Kingdom. In a wide ranging set of recommendations regarding children’s rights, the Committee has called on the UK Government, including the NI Executive to:

• Take immediate and effective measures to protect children from violence by non-State actors involved in paramilitary-style attacks as well as from recruitment by such actors into violent activities, including through measures relating to transitional and criminal justice.

• Prohibit as a matter of priority all corporal punishment in the family, including through the repeal of all legal defences, such as reasonable chastisement.

• Decriminalize abortion in Northern Ireland in all circumstances and review its legislation with a view to ensuring girls’ access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services.

• Raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in accordance with acceptable international standards from 10 to at least 12 years of age.

• Expedite the approval and enactment of the Adoption and Children Bill in Northern Ireland.

Commenting on the UN recommendations, Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“The UN has set out legislative and policy priorities for the NI Executive. Protecting children’s rights must be at the core of what our government strives to achieve during the new Assembly mandate. Providing access to safe termination of pregnancy for girls, improving the lives of looked after children, protecting children from paramilitary harm and ensuring young children are not criminalised, these issues are indicative of the basic human rights that devolution should deliver.”

ENDS

Further information:

Please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987)

Notes to editors

1. The Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to Children and Young People under 18 only.

2. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Childs examination of the UK took place at the United Nations offices in Geneva in May 2016.

3. Read more about the examination here.

4. The Committee has now issued its report and in relation to Northern Ireland it has also called on the UK Government to:

• Ensure that secure accommodation (for children) in Northern Ireland is only used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time, address the reasons for repeated or lengthy stays in such accommodation, and develop alternatives to secure accommodation.

• In Northern Ireland, actively promote a fully integrated education system and carefully monitor the provision of shared education, with the participation of children, in order to ensure that it facilitates social integration.

5. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s full report to the Committee on the Commission’s website www.nihrc.org

6. The Commission’s ongoing legal challenge on Termination of Pregnancy Laws.

From 2014 the Commission has been in legal proceedings to challenge the compatibility of the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland on the basis that failure to provide access to termination in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape and incest is in breach of the rights of women and girls. The case will be heard before the Court of Appeal on 20-23 June 2016.


10 Jun 2016

Watch our Hidden Rights Films

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission launched a series of short films on 9 June at The Mac, Belfast. It features stories shared by local people across Northern Ireland.



Participation of Disabled Persons in Society

Homelessness

Migrant Rights


09 Jun 2016

N.I Project Brings Ombudsmen and Human Rights Commissioners from around the world to Belfast

Home » News

26th May 2016

Ombudsmen and Human Rights Commissioners from around the world are in Belfast today to attend the opening of a two-day Conference being jointly hosted by the Office of the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

The Conference ‘Human Rights – A 21st Century Approach to the Work of Ombudsmen’ is being supported by the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI), to facilitate the international sharing of the outcomes and learning from a ground breaking project by the two local bodies. The project, to develop a step-by-step manual for the clear application of the rights of the individual in the complaint investigative process, has taken the NIPSO and NIHRC three years to complete. The manual has recently been endorsed by the UN High Commissioner on Human rights Prince Zeid.

The significance of the local project for international Ombudsmen and National Human Rights Institutions is reflected in the high calibre of individuals attending the Conference. Contributors and delegates include the Ombudsmen for Europe, Austria, Botswana, Gibraltar, Mauritius, Samoa, South Africa, Victoria in Canada, England, Scotland, Wales and Republic of Ireland and Human Rights Commissioners from Belize, Sierra Leone, the Maldives, Kenya, Mozambique and Scotland. Regulatory and advocacy bodies, academics, legal practitioners and those involved in the delivery of frontline public services locally are also well represented.

Commenting in advance of the Conference Marie Anderson, the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman said –

The need for the development of a Human Rights centred manual to appropriately guide Ombudsmen and Complaint Investigators in their sensitive work, arose as a result of a marked increase in the volume of complaints coming before the Northern Ireland Ombudsman which raised Human Rights issues in areas such as health and education. Three years and a lot of hard work later, this week’s Conference positions Northern Ireland at the forefront of knowledge sharing and collaboration in the world of Ombudsmen and Human Rights advocates”.

Les Allamby, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Chief Commissioner added –

“The endorsement of this project by the United Nations, clearly demonstrates that we have something very important to share with the international community. We look forward to presenting our approach to this prestigious and informed audience and receiving their feedback. I have no doubt that there will be a wealth of knowledge and experience shared across the two days.”

Emily O’Reilly, the European Ombudsman, who will be a keynote speaker at the event said –

“Ombudsmen throughout the world perform a crucial human rights function. At a time in Europe when our complacency about the strength of fundamental values in many member states is being challenged and where elsewhere in the world the rights of so many are being daily violated, this is a fitting time for the Ombudsman community to reflect on our role and potential. I look forward to contributing.”

The Conference ‘Human Rights – A 21st Century Approach to the Work of Ombudsmen’ is taking place at the Stormont Hotel, Belfast today, Thursday 26th and tomorrow Friday 26th May 2016.

ENDS

For further information please contact Claire Martin on 02890243987.

NOTES TO EDITORS

You are welcome to attend the Opening session of the Conference at the Stormont Hotel on Thursday 26th May 2016 from 10.00am to 1.00pm. (If this does not suit access at other times will be available)

Interviews of key participants and delegates and filming of the proceedings will be facilitated.

A copy of the Conference Programme - showing key contributors and topics - is attached.

The Role of Ombudsmen

In most countries around the world parliamentary control bodies are established, which monitor and implement the rule of law, the fight against corruption and good public administration. Although the specific role of the Ombudsman institution may vary, the holder of this office is legitimized by parliament – either through direct elections or through appointment by the head of state or government by or after consultation with parliament.

The role of the ombudsman is to protect the people against violation of rights, abuse of powers, unfair decisions and maladministration. Ombudsman institutions play an increasingly important role in improving public administration while making the government’s actions more open and its administration more accountable to the public.

The International Ombudsman Institute (IOI), established in 1978, is the only global organisation for the cooperation of more than 170 independent Ombudsman institutions from more than 90 countries worldwide. The IOI is organised in six regional chapters (Africa, Asia, Australasia & Pacific, Europe, the Caribbean & Latin America and North America). In its effort to focus on good governance and capacity building, the IOI supports its members in a threefold way: training, research and regional subsidies for projects.


26 May 2016

N.I Child Marriage Raised at UN Children’s Rights Committee

Home » News

23 May 2016

The Human Rights Commission has published its report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. It will present this report to the Committee today 23 May in Geneva.

Speaking ahead of the Committee presentation, NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

“Child, Early and Forced Marriage is one, in over twenty issues that we have brought to the attention of the UN in this report. The marriage of under 18 year olds is a live issue in Northern Ireland that needs to be addressed through a change to the law. This issue is a global one as well as a local one.”

Latest Figures, obtained from N.I Statistics and Research Agency, highlight that 68 children were married in 2014 of these 42 were girls and 26 were boys. In N.I under the 2003 Order a child aged 16 or 17 years of age may be married with the consent of their parents or legal guardians. This runs contrary to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommendation to increase the minimum age for marriage with and without parental consent to 18 years, for both girls and boys.

Commenting on the wider aspects of the report, Les Allamby added:

“Many of these issues have been raised before, but unfortunately progress has been poor. They include a lack of movement on raising the age of criminal responsibility, ending smacking of children and reducing the use of remand for children in the criminal justice system. The new NI Assembly and Executive needs to step up to the mark. Children’s rights must be prioritised and a devolved government be seen to take its international obligations seriously. Our elected representatives should take the decisive actions required to improve the protection of our children’s rights.”

The Commission has advised that the UN Committee should ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive to:

• Take immediate efforts to repeal all legal provisions permitting the marriage of children in N.I.

• Take immediate action to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 12 years of age.

• Thoroughly investigate all assaults against children by members of parmilitary organisations, ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted and if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions.

• Abolish the defence of reasonable chastisement of a child to a charge of common assault.

• Take immediate steps in Northern Ireland to decriminalize abortion in all circumstances and review its legislation with a view to ensuring children’s access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services; and ensure that the views of the pregnant girl are always heard and respected in abortion decisions, in line with the Committee recommendation relating to Ireland.

• Take immediate action to ensure that children are held in pre trial detention only in circumstances where it is a measure of last resort.

ENDS

Further information:

Please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 90269760) or on 0771 7731873.

Notes to editors:

1. The Committee’s examination of the UK will take place at the United Nations offices in Geneva in May 2016.

2. Child, Early and Forced Marriage (pg 16-18 of the attached report)

• The Commission notes that paragraph 13 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 4 (2003) states that:

• The Committee strongly recommends States Parties to review and, where necessary, reform legislation and practice to increase the minimum age for marriage with and without parental consent to 18 years, for both girls and boys.

• The Commission notes that this recommendation reflects that of the CEDAW Committee within its General Recommendation 21. The Commission refers to paragraph 39 of the State Report, the Marriage (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 provides that 18 is the minimum age at which an individual can consent to marriage. However under the 2003 Order a child aged 16 or 17 years of age may be married with the consent of their parents or legal guardians. The law of Northern Ireland therefore runs contrary to the Committee’s recommendation.

• The Commission notes that in Northern Ireland 68 children were married in 2014 of these 42 were girls and 26 were boys. It is estimated that globally over the next decade 140 million girls under the age of 18 years will be forced to marry without their consent. This amounts to a rate of 39,000 girls every day. Whilst most research on the issue of early and forced marriage has focused on developing states, in the calendar year 2014 the Forced Marriage Protected Unit in the UK gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,267 cases, the Unit recorded that 11% of victims or potential victims of forced marriage who sought advice or support reported that they were 16 or 17 years of age. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 makes provision for protecting individuals against being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent, this extends to Northern Ireland.

• A report of a UK Home Office working group on forced marriage noted the role of parents in the practice of forced marriages:

• There is a spectrum of behaviours behind the term forced marriage, ranging from emotional pressure, exerted by close family members and the extended family, to the more extreme cases, which can involve threatening behaviour, abduction, imprisonment, physical violence, rape and in some cases murder. People spoke to the Working Group about ‘loving manipulation’ in the majority of cases, where parents genuinely felt that they were acting in their children and family’s best interests.’

4. Access the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s full report to the Committee on the Commission’s website www.nihrc.org

5. As part of the NIHRC’s engagement with the United Nations and Council of Europe treaty monitoring processes, it presents this submission regarding the UK’s Fifth Periodic Report on compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child(the Convention) to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child(the Committee) 72nd Session.

6. The Commission is one of the three ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institutions in the UK. As a National Human Rights Institution the NIHRC engages with and reports to the United Nations’ and Council of Europe’s treaty monitoring processes.

7. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland (NI).


23 May 2016

International Conference Will Share Local Human Rights Approach

Home » News

10 May 2016

Ombudsmen and Complaints Handling practitioners from around the world will be in Belfast later this month to attend ‘Human Rights – A 21st Century Approach to the Work of Ombudsmen’, an international conference to be jointly hosted by the office of the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC).

The event will focus on sharing the features and benefits of an innovative manual which has been developed locally by the NIPSO and NIHRC and endorsed by the United Nations. In the increasingly complex and challenging environment of complaints handling, the manual has been developed to support the work of Ombudsmen and others working in the field by providing a step-by-step template for the clear application of the rights of the individual in the complaint investigative process. This collaborative project was funded by the International Ombudsman Institute who are also supporting the conference, their first ever to be held in Northern Ireland.

Commenting in advance of the Conference Emily O’Reilly, the European Ombudsman, who will be a keynote speaker at the event said:

Ombudsmen throughout the world perform a crucial human rights function. At a time in Europe when our complacency about the strength of fundamental values in many member states is being challenged and where elsewhere in the world the rights of so many are being daily violated, this is a fitting time for the Ombudsman community to reflect on our role and potential. I look forward to contributing.”

Marie Anderson, the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman said :

“The publication of our Human Rights Based Approach manual is the culmination of three years of ground breaking work and this conference provides us with an important opportunity to put the innovative work undertaken by the NIPSO and the NIHRC firmly on the global Complaints Handling map. Our ability to attract such a high profile international audience to the Conference is testament to the importance of our approach and the supporting manual.”

Les Allamby, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Chief Commissioner added :

The endorsement of this project and the supporting materials by the United Nations, clearly demonstrates that we have something very important to share with the Ombudsman and Complaints Handling community worldwide. We look forward to sharing our learning and experience with international delegates as well as local bodies and practitioners working in the Complaints Handling and Regulatory fields.

For further information please contact Lorraine Hamill on 028902 43987.

Note to Editors

  1. Register for the Conference Here
  2. The ‘Human Rights – A 21st Century Approach to the Work of Ombudsmen’ conference will take place at the Stormont Hotel from 25th to 27th May.
  3. Pictured L-R NI Human Rights Chief Commissioner Les Allamby and NI Public Services Ombudsman Marie Anderson look forward to hosting the international conference ‘Human Rights – A 21st Century Approach to the Work of Ombudsmen’ at the Stormont Hotel, Belfast from 25th to 27th May 2016. Delegates will include international Ombudsmen, Human Rights Commissioners, senior Complaints Handling officials in local Public Service organisations and Regulatory bodies.


10 May 2016

Invitation to our Hidden Rights Film Launch

Home » News

You can register now by clicking here.​


05 May 2016

Notice: This Website Is Under Construction, Improved Design Coming Soon!

Home » News

​Please note the Commission’s website is under construction and we will be launching our new and improved website soon.

If you cannot find what you are looking for please do not hesitate to get in touch us at: information@nihrc.org or on 02890243987.


25 Apr 2016

Conference: Human Rights - A 21st Century Approach to the work of Ombudsmen

Home » News

Conference: Human Rights - A 21st Century Approach to the work of Ombudsmen

The Offices of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission invite you to participate in an International Conference which will focus on sharing the features and benefits of a Human Rights based approach with a bespoke staff manual and on-line tools. At its core, this new approach seeks to empower complainants, frontline services and investigative staff by applying cutting edge international, regional and local knowledge in an accessible way. The short video above highlights how the N.I Ombudsman successfully integrating a human rights based approach into its work.

Who should attend? Anyone working in a senior position in the Ombudsman and Human Rights Investigation environment as well as advocates and professional practitioners working in this field.

Register for this Conference Here


11 Mar 2016

Fact Sheet on Human Rights Commission’s Termination of Pregnancy Case

Home » News

FACT SHEET

The Court of Appeal will hear the case on 20 June 2016. The Appeal will last four days.

Who are the parties in the Appeal?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, The Department of Justice, The Attorney General.

The Commission’s position:

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is challenging all appeals in the termination of pregnancy case. In November 2015, the Belfast High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that our current law is incompatible with human rights. The Department of Justice and Attorney General are appealing the judgment.

The Commission will cross appeal both the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. We will re-introduce all of the original grounds brought before the court. The choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of foetus (including fatal foetal abnormality), rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so, should be made available in Northern Ireland. The Commission continues to seek a change in the law so that the human rights of women and girls are protected when facing these difficult decisions.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s won its Judicial Review of Termination of Pregnancy Laws on 30 November 2015. The High Court held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family and private life was breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes.

When did this case begin?

The Commission first initiated its judicial review of the termination of pregnancy laws in 2014.

What were the grounds of the original case?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission asked the Court to declare that the current law, relating to access to termination of pregnancy services for women in cases of serious malformation of the foetus or pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, is incompatible with human rights law and results in a breach of the rights of women and girls seeking a termination of pregnancy in these circumstances.

Termination of Pregnancy in N.I

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The doctor must be of the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a “physical or mental wreck”: R v. Bourne [1939] KB 687, per Macnaghten J at 694. It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy, under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

1967 Abortion Act

The Commission is not seeking to introduce the Abortion Act 1967 in Northern Ireland and does not engage this law in this legal challenge. The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest.

N.I Executive Guidance

In late March 2016 the N.I Executive issued Guidance for Health and Social Care Professionals on Termination of Pregnancy in Northern Ireland. This guidance does not change the law in that women will still be criminalised for accessing a termination in cases of a fatal foetal abnormality or sexual crime. The guidance does not take into account the judgment of Mr Justice Horner of Nov 2015.

Case Timeline

30 November 2015- the Belfast High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that our current law is incompatible with human rights.

16 December 2015 -the High Court granted a Declaration of Incompatibility (DOI) under the Human Rights Act. This was based on the law prohibiting termination of pregnancy in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crime being a violation of women’s right to personal autonomy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

15-17 June 2015-Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court in Belfast. Judgment was reserved at the close of proceedings on 17 June.

In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls. In the Human Rights Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime. A summary of responses can be found at: https://www.dojni.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-abortion-2014

Case Facts

In forming its view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

The legal case stated that Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. Prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.


12 Feb 2016

Book Now for International Ombudsman Conference 25-27 May 2016

Home » News
May Conference
May Conference

Register For this Conference Here


28 Jan 2016

Human Rights Commission Set to Cross Appeal in Termination of Pregnancy Case

Home » News

Wednesday 27 January 2016

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will be challenging all appeals in the termination of pregnancy case. In November 2015, the Belfast High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that our current law is incompatible with human rights. The Department of Justice and Attorney General have now confirmed that they will be appealing the judgment.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“The Commission will now cross appeal both the Department of Justice and the Attorney General. We will re-introduce all of the original grounds brought before the court. The choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of foetus (including fatal foetal abnormality), rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so, should be made available in Northern Ireland. The Commission continues to seek a change in the law so that the human rights of women and girls are protected when facing these difficult decisions.”

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s won its Judicial Review of Termination of Pregnancy Laws on 30 November 2015. The High Court held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family and private life was breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes.

For further information please contact: David Russell on 02890 243987 or Claire Martin on 07717731873 Claire.Martin@nihrc.org

Notes to editors:

When did this case begin?

The Commission first initiated its judicial review of the termination of pregnancy laws in 2014.

What were the grounds of the original case?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission asked the Court to declare that the current law, relating to access to termination of pregnancy services for women in cases of serious malformation of the foetus or pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, is incompatible with human rights law and results in a breach of the rights of women and girls seeking a termination of pregnancy in these circumstances.

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The doctor must be of the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a “physical or mental wreck”: R v. Bourne [1939] KB 687, per Macnaghten J at 694. It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy, under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

1967 Abortion Act

The Commission is not seeking to introduce the Abortion Act 1967 in Northern Ireland and does not engage this law in this legal challenge. The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest.

Case Timeline

30 November 2015- the Belfast High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that our current law is incompatible with human rights. On 16 December 2015 the High Court granted a Declaration of Incompatibility (DOI) under the Human Rights Act. This was based on the law prohibiting termination of pregnancy in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crime being a violation of women’s right to personal autonomy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

15-17 June 2015-Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court in Belfast. Judgment was reserved at the close of proceedings on 17 June.

In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls. In the Human Rights Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime. A summary of responses can be found at:https://www.dojni.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-abortion-2014

Case Facts

In forming its view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

The legal case stated that Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

Who were the Parties?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission took its Judicial Review against the Department of Justice. The Attorney General for Northern Ireland is also a notice party in the case.

Intervenors: Individuals and organisations who were given permission and made written submissions in the case:

1. Sarah Ewart

2. Northern Bishops

3. The Society For The Protection Of Unborn Children

4. Family Planning Association

5. Alliance for Choice & an Anonymous individual

6. Amnesty International

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with section 69(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.


27 Jan 2016

NIHRC welcomes the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Mr Nils Muiznieks

Home » News

​19 January 2016

Coe Human Rights Commissioner at NIHRC
Coe Human Rights Commissioner at NIHRC

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby and Commission staff met Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Nils Muiznieks at the office of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in Belfast today.

Notes to editors

1. Commissioner’s discussed issues including dealing with the past, plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights, the human rights of migrants, in particular refugees, and counter-terrorism and surveillance measures.

2. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Nils Muižnieks, is visiting Northern Ireland as part of his wider United Kingdom visit from 17 to 23 January 2016. His visit will focus on issues relating to the Uk’s role and relationship with the European human rights protection system.

3. Nils Muižnieks was elected Commissioner for Human Rights on 24 January 2012 by the Parliamentary Assembly and took up his position on 1 April 2012. He is the third Commissioner, succeeding Thomas Hammarberg (2006-2012) and Alvaro Gil-Robles (1999-2006). His full biography available here.

4. Les Allamby has been appointed Chief Commissioner for a period of five years. He took up post on 1 September 2014. His full biography is available here


19 Jan 2016

Next Meeting of Business & Human Rights Forum Confirmed for 29 January

Home » News

8 January 2016

The Northern Ireland Business and Human Rights Forum is holding its first quarterly meeting of 2016 on Friday 29th January 10:00–12:30. The meeting will be held at Ingeus’ premise in Belfast (Capital House, Floor 2, Suite 1, 3 Upper Queen Street, Belfast, BT1 6FB) with a lunch to follow.

The Forum supports business in developing an awareness of human rights and in sharing best practice and experiences of their work to respect and protect human rights. The agenda is set by the participants with support from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Who can attend?

The Forum is a multi-stakeholder initiative and participation is open to businesses (large and SMEs), civil society organisations, NGOs, trade unions, and the government.

The 29 January 2016 meeting will include three presentations on recent measures to promote human rights within the Northern Ireland Executive and business organisations through Chris Stewart, head of policy at DETI, who will also provide an overview of the work to establish the new Department of the Economy and the associated priorities and challenges, Stephen Hillis, Ingeus, and Grace Peacock, Federation of Small Business.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will highlight developments on the preparation of the UK’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, and its equivalent in Ireland.

RSVP

Please confirm by email by Friday 22nd January if you are interested in attending the upcoming meeting by contacting Daniel Morris at daniel.morris@nihrc.org or on 028 9024 3987.


08 Jan 2016

Watch our Annual Statement 2015 Launch with C4 Presenter Jon Snow

Home » News

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s Annual Statement took place in Stormont on 14 December 2015.

Read the Commission’s Annual Statement in full here


17 Dec 2015

Human Rights across the UK and Ireland in 2015 and beyond

Home » News

17 December 2015

The Chairs and Chief Executives of the National Human Rights Institutions for Ireland, Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Scotland met on 2 December to share progress and discuss future collaboration. As NHRIs, we all have duties to advise our governments and to promote awareness, understanding and protection of human rights, equality and good relations. Our discussions included:

• the refugee crisis: all of the European NHRIs are working to support the maintenance of human rights and international obligations in the treatment of asylum seekers, in a fast-moving and contentious context. As refugees settle into new countries and communities, there will be challenges for all of us in supporting their integration.

• responses to government spending policy: we shared information on the work that each of us is doing to help our governments to analyse and explain the equality and human rights implications of their spending decisions. We discussed the need for an overall assessment of individual decisions, in order to understand the cumulative impact of the many changes on groups such as disabled people and single mothers.

• the UK Human Rights Act: we reiterated the shared position of the UK NHRIs that, in whatever final changes are put forward by Government, there should be no reduction of the human rights protection and redress offered by the current Act. The interaction of the Act with the devolution settlements and the Northern Ireland peace agreement creates some very complex issues around any proposed changes and we will be working closely together on our responses to the forthcoming consultation.

The group also discussed recent significant successes, such as the NI abortion case and the introduction of gay marriage in Ireland, and current concerns, such as the treatment of transgender prisoners. We congratulated the IHREC on its strong progress since its establishment a year ago, and the group thanked Onora O’Neill and Alan Miller for their immense contributions during their time in office.


17 Dec 2015

Human Rights Commission Responds to Court’s Decision on Termination of Pregnancy Laws

Home » News

16 December 2015

Justice Horner has provided his decision on how to take forward the Human Rights Commission’s recent successful Judicial Review of N.I Termination of Pregnancy Laws. Judgment on Relief was provided at the Chancery Court today.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“We welcome the Courts decision today to grant a declaration of incompatibility, confirming that the existing termination of pregnancy laws are contrary to human rights. It now falls to the Department and the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward legislation to reflect the Judgment of the Court. The Commission will await to see how the Department & the Executive will take this forward or if any appeals will be lodged.”

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s won its Judicial Review of N.I Termination of Pregnancy Laws on 30 November 2015. The Court held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right of women to family and private life was breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes.

Further Information

Please contact Claire Martin at Claire.Martin@nihrc.org

FACTS OF THE CASE

1. There were two options on how the Judgment could be taken forward:

First was to: read down existing legislation (the 1861 Offences against the Persons Act), in a way so that terminations are to be allowed in N.I, in the cases of sexual crime and fatal foetal abnormalities. In this way, it would be covered within the existing law and the N.I Assembly would not need to take further action. In the Commission’s view any guidelines issued by a government department would need to comply with this, as law.

Second was to grant a ‘declaration of incompatibility’ that the existing legislation is contrary to human rights in the specific circumstances of this ruling. This would require the N.I Assembly to legislate to change the law and the current law would stand until the Assembly did so.

2. In the Current Interim Period:

If an appeal is lodged this means that the law as it stands won’t change until all appeals are concluded. It may go through to the Supreme Court in London.

3. The Commission was successful in its Judicial Review on Northern Irelands Termination of Pregnancy Law. The case was taken against the Department of Justice. The Attorney General for Northern Ireland was also a notice party in the case. The judgment was delivered on 30 November 2015 in Belfast High Court. Access the full judgment here

4. The High Court held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right of women to family and private life is breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes.

5. The Court confirmed there is neither a general right to abortion nor the protection of the right to life under the common law in Northern Ireland. It held that the failure to provide exceptions to the prohibition of termination in cases of serious foetal abnormality is also not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

6. What were the grounds of the case?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission asked the Court to declare that the current law, relating to access to termination of pregnancy services for women in cases of serious malformation including fatal foetal abnormalities of the foetus or pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, was incompatible with human rights law and results in a breach of the rights of women and girls seeking a termination of pregnancy in these circumstances.

Termination of pregnancy is only currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The doctor must be of the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a “physical or mental wreck”: R v. Bourne [1939] KB 687, per Macnaghten J at 694. It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy, under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.


16 Dec 2015

C4 Presenter Jon Snow at Human Rights Launch

Home » News

14 December 2015

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission launched its Annual Statement on Monday 14 December and was delighted to welcome the journalist and Channel 4 Presenter as the key note speaker at the event. He delivered a speech on:

“Human Rights, The Media has only just begun to understand. “From El Salvador to Sri Lanka, via Northern Ireland and Iraq.”

Jon Snow stated:

“This is a remarkable document, speaking as it does to the over-arching role that respect for human rights plays in consolidating the peace process in Northern Ireland. Much of what is in this report provides genuine optimism for he future. The Commission’s work provides robust cement to the work of political and civil society in bringing about the great changes that have occurred in Northern Ireland. As a Journalist who spent considerable time reporting the ‘troubles’ in the seventies and eighties, to read this report of the Human Rights Commission is both uplifting and reassuring. There is a transparency about both the achievements and the challenges of these present times. For an institution that has been in existence for less than two decades - in the aftermath of such division and violence - I pay tribute to the extraordinary resilience, and continuing work,of the Commission and its staff.”

NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby, said:

“We are honoured to have the internationally renowned journalist launch our Annual Statement this year. The statement provides a record of human rights over the past year and highlights 86 areas of public policy dealing with both devolved issues and Westminster issues. The media have been crucial in allowing the Commission to highlight its work. Freedom of the press is a key component of the democratic process and it is vital that Northern Ireland continues to have an independent press that is unrestrained in its ability to report accurately and truthfully on what is happening locally and globally.”

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on Claire.Martin@nihrc.org or 02890243987.

Notes to editors

1. The 2015 Annual Statement contains a traffic lights system with the aim of making the document more accessible to readers. Access it here.

• Red identifies a subject that requires immediate action by the UK Government, NI Executive or relevant public authorities and the issue may be an ongoing violation or abuse of human rights.

• Amber identifies a subject that requires action by the UK Government, NI Executive or relevant public authorities. The issue may not be at a level that constitutes an ongoing violation or abuse of human rights. Initial steps toward providing an effective response could have already been taken or the necessity of taking action acknowledged by the relevant body. Such actions may have commenced but are not yet completed.

• Green identifies a subject that has been acknowledged as requiring action to protect human rights in NI and an effective response has been provided by the UK Government, NI Executive or relevant public authorities. A firm commitment to address the matter will have been demonstrated and undertaken.

2. List of outcomes categorised by traffic light system in NIHRC 2015 Annual Statement:

Red

1. Conflict related deaths: transitional justice and individual cases (pg19)

2. Legacy inquests and inquiries (pg22)

3. The remand of children (pg30)

4. Corporal punishment of children (pg42)

5. Compensation for a miscarriage of justice (pg48)

6. Age of criminal responsibility (pg50)

7. Anti-poverty strategy (pg67)

8. Termination of pregnancy (pg74)

Amber

1. Consolidating, strengthening and clarifying equality protections (pg11)

2. Intersectional multiple discrimination (pg11)

3. Age discrimination (pg12)

4. Sectarianism (pg12)

5. Racial equality strategy (pg12)

6. Racist hate crimes (pg13)

7. Religious tolerance (pg14)

8. Gender equality strategy (pg15)

9. Persons with disabilities (pg16)

10. Extension of civil marriage to same sex couples (pg17)

11. Eligibility to donate blood (pg17)

12. Inquiries Act 2005(pg23)

13. On the Runs: Administrative Scheme (pg24)

14. Rule of law: non-state actors (pg25)

15. Investigations of deaths in custody (pg27)

16. Alternatives to imprisonment (pg28)

17. Imprisonment for fine default (pg29)

18. Women in prison (pg29)

19. Imprisonment of children with adults (pg30)

20. Definition of terrorism (pg31)

21. Powers of arrest under the Terrorism Act 2000 (pg32)

22. Prison review and conditions (pg33)

23. Abuse in health and social care settings (pg34)

24. Historical abuse of children and adults (pg35)

25. Domestic violence (pg36)

26. Allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment overseas (pg37)

27. Deprivation of citizenship (pg38)

28. Mechanisms to identify victims of torture detained in immigration facilities (pg39)

29. Female genital mutilation (pg40)

30. Strip searches (pg41)

31. Syrian refugee crisis (pg41)

32. Child prostitution and sexual exploitation (pg43)

33. Human Trafficking (pg45)

34. Avoidable delay (pg47)

35. Witness Charter (pg48)

36. Closed material proceedings (pg49)

37. Access to Justice (pg50)

38. Public Services Ombudsperson Bill (pg51)

39. Alternatives care arrangements for children (pg52)

40. Stop and search (pg54)

41. Housing (Anti-social Behaviour) Bill (pg54)

42. Environmental Better Regulation Bill (pg55)

43. Health and Social Care (Control of Data Processing) Bill (pg55)

44. Parades and protests (pg56)

45. Participation of women in public and political life (pg57)

46. Defamation (pg58)

47. Blasphemy (pg58)

48. Accessible childcare (pg60)

49. Armed Forces Covenant (pg60)

50. Social security (pg62)

51. Social housing (pg62)

52. Homelessness (pg65)

53. Traveller accommodation (pg65)

54. Unauthorised Encampments (NI) Order 2005 (pg66)

55. Child poverty strategy (pg68)

56. Reduction in asylum financial support (pg68)

57. Crisis Fund (pg69)

58. Carers (pg70)

59. Supported lodgings (pg71)

60. Emergency healthcare (pg72)

61. Mental capacity (pg75)

62. Access to healthcare for irregular migrants (pg76)

63. Integrated education (pg77)

64. Shared education (pg79)

65. Academic selection (pg79)

66. Educational needs of Traveller children (pg80)

67. Special educational needs (pg80)

68. The Irish language and Ulster Scots (pg82)

69. A Bill of Rights for NI (pg84)

70. A UK Bill of Rights (pg84)

71. A Charter of Rights for the island of Ireland (pg86)

72. National human rights institution (pg86)

Green

1. Domestic Violence Protection Orders (pg37)

2. National Crime Agency (pg44)

3. Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 (pg46)

4. Victim Charter (pg48)

5. Care standards for nursing homes (pg74)

6. Children in custody (pg77)

3. The launch of the Annual Statement 2015 will take place at the Long Gallery Stormont from 9.30-11.30am. It is being sponsored by the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr Mitchel McLaughlin MLA. Press are welcome to attend the event.

4. Jon Snow has been the face of Channel 4 News since 1989. Jon Snow joined ITN in 1976 and became Washington Correspondent in 1984. Since then, he has travelled the world to cover the news – from the fall of the Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela, to Barack Obama’s inauguration and the earthquake in Haiti. His many awards include the Richard Dimbleby, Bafta award for Best Factual Contribution to Television (2005), and Royal Television Society awards for Journalist of the Year (2006) and Presenter of the Year (2009).

5. Les Allamby has been appointed Chief Commissioner for a period of five years. He took up post on 1 September 2014. Les is a solicitor and formerly the Director of the Law Centre (Northern Ireland). He was appointed honorary Professor of Law at the University of Ulster last year and is a trustee of the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland. He has undertaken election monitoring for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and International Organisation for Migration in Bosnia, Pakistan and Georgia.

6. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


14 Dec 2015

N.I to Debate the Business of Human Rights

Home » News

11 December 2015

As part of the local Human Rights Festival, the Northern Ireland Business and Human Rights Forum today is hosting an event in Belfast on ‘The Business of Human Rights’. It will examine the steps Northern Ireland businesses are taking to protect and respect human rights.

Dr Shane Darcy from NUI Galway, an expert on business and human rights, will provide the opening keynote address, and has stated that:

“The increased attention being paid to the issue of business respect for human rights at the international level needs to be translated into local action, and this event provides a great opportunity to do just that, by engaging with business, human rights activists and public bodies.”

Chair of the event & the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

The Forum is an exciting new initiative and more importantly local business are the driving force behind it. We are delighted that businesses represented here today are leading the way in adopting human rights policies. Much can be done to improve the lives of people here and abroad by local business engaging with human rights and ethical trading. We encourage our local businesses to join the Forum to learn more about human rights, and share their experiences on the best ways to implement them.”

Three members of the Business and Human Rights Forum, Clare Moore (ICTU), Kerry Kelly (Tesco), and Tina McKenzie (Staffline Ireland), form the panel of the event, and will provide short presentations on the business and human rights work their organisations are engaged in.

Notes to editors

1. The event will be held at the Harbour Commissioners office on Friday 11 December 2015.

2. Dr Shane Darcy is a lecturer at the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland Galway. He is on the Editorial Board of the Business and Human Rights Journal, a member of the National Board of Amnesty International’s Irish Section and runs the Business and Human Rights in Ireland blog.

3. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a National Human Rights Institution. It is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

4. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is the current chair of the Business and Human Rights Forum, and provides the Secretariat.

5. The Northern Ireland Business and Human Rights Forum was established in 2015 to share information and good practice amongst businesses. The forum has members from businesses (large and SMEs), NGOs, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Department of Finance and Personnel and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

6. The work of the forum follows the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The forum meets quarterly, with the next meeting scheduled for January 2016.More details are available here


11 Dec 2015

Chief Commissioner Message on International Human Rights Day

Home » News

10 December 2015

Today is international human rights day commemorating the day in 1948 when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The UK government has also signed up to many other important human rights treaties governing covering civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of children, women, people with disabilities, those seeking asylum alongside committing itself to the elimination of discrimination including on grounds of race, disability and gender.

Events in the world illustrate the importance of universal international human rights standards many of which were introduced to prevent conflict safeguard democracy and support the rule of law. Closer to home, the Commission launches its annual statement on human rights next week charting progress based on these international standards which apply equally to the Northern Ireland Assembly. In terms of moving forward, the statement is a mix of good, bad and indifferent. Progress has been made for example to protect the victims of child sexual exploitation with the extended role of the National Crime Agency, victims of modern day slavery through the implementation of human trafficking legislation and victims more generally through the introduction of a victim’s charter.

It is said that Northern Ireland once launched ships – now we launch strategies. Arguably we are now failing to do even that. Promised strategies on racial equality, sexual orientation, childcare, stopping domestic and sexual violence and tackling poverty remain unpublished. The impassé on comprehensively dealing with past remains. Victims are getting older and investigations and justice becomes more difficult to achieve the longer time passes. Our future well-being depends on properly dealing with the past.

Tying the global standards to local action is important. As Eleanor Roosevelt famously said ‘where do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – in the neighbourhood, the school or college, the factory, farm or office. Places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world’. These words still have real meaning on international human rights day.


10 Dec 2015

Mary Robinson Joins Commonwealth Human Rights Bodies in Call for Global Climate Justice Response

Home » News

4 December 2015

As the climate change summit in Paris continues, the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights have adopted The St. Julian Declaration on Climate Justice, calling for “a global response to dealing with the consequences of climate change by ensuring the explicit recognition of human rights in the new Climate Agreement.”

Mary Robinson, the seventh President of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation stated:

“It is significant that experts from the Commonwealth National Human Rights Institutions are demonstrating leadership and commitment to the values of climate justice ahead of the opening of the Paris climate change conference. A successful agreement will be measured by how it protects the people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. To achieve this, the agreement will have to uphold the principles of the Convention and the normative framework of the United Nations including the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; so the recognition of the relationship between human rights and climate change by experts via the St. Julian Declaration is very welcome.”

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner & Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutes, Les Allamby commented:

“The St. Julian Declaration represents the view of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions that “climate justice provides a robust framework for dealing with climate change impacts by ensuring that the rights of most vulnerable populations are taken into account and requiring response measures to be fair, equitable and transparent.” ”

The Declaration, which is the result of a working group on climate change chaired by the Scottish Human Rights Commission, calls upon Commonwealth Heads of Government to “prioritise human rights in their discussion, and recognise the links between human rights, climate change and sustainable development”. This is of particular significance as 45 of the 100 countries classified globally as most vulnerable to climate change are within the Commonwealth of Nations.

Climate change can impact on human rights directly with increasing concern over water supply and food security, means of subsistence, availability of housing and health conditions. The Declaration acknowledges that while the impacts of climate change will be global, the effects will be most severe for people who are already vulnerable because of geography, poverty, gender, disability, age, indigenous and minority status.

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a National Human Rights Institution. It is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has begun the role of Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions. The Commission will hold the role until 2017.

3. The Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (CFNHRI) is an informal and inclusive body of Commonwealth National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and other national accountability mechanisms having a human rights mandate. It has 39 members Commonwealth Members: Africa; Asia; Caribbean; European; North America & Pacific Members. Members include New Zealand, Canada, Africa, Uganda, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. NHRIs play an important role in ensuring that internationally accepted human rights standards result in improved enjoyment of human rights on the ground within their respective countries.

4. The mandate of the Forum is to promote networking, sharing of information, experiences and best practices, encouraging countries to establish Paris Principle-compliant NHRIs, and assisting national institutions to fulfil their mandated activities. The Forum is intended to complement and support the activities of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and existing regional coordination or accreditation bodies.

5. Find out more about the work of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions at: http://cfnhri.org/

6 The St. Julian Declaration can be found here


04 Dec 2015

Chief Commissioner Writes for Belfast Telegraph Judgment is a Victory for Women

Home » News

01.12.15

Judgment was given yesterday upholding the Commission’s legal challenge that the criminalization of terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality and for the victims of sex crimes is contrary to the right to family and private life under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Commission had raised its concerns over the compatibility with our 19th Century legislation with both the Department of Justice and Department of Health over a prolonged period. The Court also held that there is neither a general right to abortion nor a freestanding protection of the right to life under the common law. The failure to provide exceptions to the prohibition of termination in cases of serious foetal abnormality is also not contrary to the Convention.

The judgment is measured and deserves careful reading. It acknowledges the polarized nature of the debate but, also recognises the preparedness of many to listen and be persuaded by the strength of arguments advanced by the different parties to the debate. In the Judges own words ‘I hope everyone will read the judgment in full, consider the arguments that have been made and understand them, even if they are unable to accept the conclusion I have reached’.

The judgment vindicates the bravery of Sarah Ewart and a woman referred to as AT, who set out their experiences of wanting a termination in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormality.

What happens next? The Judge has indicated an intention to grant a ‘declaration of incompatibility’ in that the legislation is contrary to human rights in the specific circumstances of his ruling, unless the existing legislation can read so as to comply with the Human Rights. The Department of Justice may yet appeal. In the meantime, the Commission will seek to pursue arrangements that allow women and girls the rights to termination in Northern Ireland for fatal foetal abnormalities and when the victims of sex crimes without either they or their clinicians or healthcare professionals facing any risk of criminal charges and up to life imprisonment. That is the least that women who today face Sarah Ewart or AT’s circumstances deserve.


01 Dec 2015

Human Rights Commission Welcomes Historic Termination of Pregnancy Ruling

Home » News

30 November 2015

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“The Human Rights Commission welcomes today’s landmark ruling. In taking this case we sought to change the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy locally in circumstances of fatal foetal abnormalities, rape or incest, without being criminalised for doing so.

We are pleased that today that the High Court has held that the current law is incompatible with human rights and has ruled in the Commission’s favour.

Today’s result is historic, and will be welcomed by many of the vulnerable women and girls who have been faced with these situations. It was important for the Commission to take this challenge in its own name, in order to protect women and girls in Northern Ireland and we are delighted with the result”.

For further information please contact: Claire Martin on 07717731873 or 02890 243987 Claire.Martin@nihrc.org

Notes to editors:

1. A Judicial Review was taken by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on Northern Irelands Termination of Pregnancy Law. The case was taken against the Department of Justice. The Attorney General for Northern Ireland was also a notice party in the case. The judgment was delivered today in Belfast High Court. Access the full judgment here.

2. The High Court today held that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to family and private life is breached by the general prohibition of abortions in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and pregnancies as a consequence of sexual crimes.

3. The Court also held there is neither a general right to abortion nor the protection of the right to life under the common law. It held that the failure to provide exceptions to the prohibition of termination in cases of serious foetal abnormality is also not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights.

4. What are the grounds of the case?

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has asked the Court to declare that the current law, relating to access to termination of pregnancy services for women in cases of serious malformation including fatal foetal abnormalities of the foetus or pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, is incompatible with human rights law and results in a breach of the rights of women and girls seeking a termination of pregnancy in these circumstances.

Termination of pregnancy is only currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The doctor must be of the opinion that the continuation of the pregnancy will be to make the woman a “physical or mental wreck”: R v. Bourne [1939] KB 687, per Macnaghten J at 694. It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy, under section 58 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

5. Who are the Intervenors? Individuals and organisations who have been given permission to make a written submission in the case are:

• Sarah Ewart

• Northern Bishops

• The Society For The Protection Of Unborn Children

• Family Planning Association

• Alliance for Choice & an Anonymous individual

• Precious Life

• Amnesty International

6. What will happen next?

If the Court finds in the Human Rights Commission’s favour, it will then fall to the Northern Ireland Assembly to amend the law.

7. Appeals: Any Party in the Case, (The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the Department of Justice and the Attorney General) can lodge an appeal after the Judgment. The time limit for appeal is 6 weeks after the Judgment is delivered.

8. Case Timeline

1. 15-17 June 2015-Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court in Belfast. Judgment was reserved at the close of proceedings on 17 June.

2. In April 2015, Speaking after the public consultation was completed; Justice Minister David Ford announced a recommended change to Northern Ireland’s abortion law. He stated he would ask the Executive for its approval to bring forward legislation to the Assembly which would allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. He also proposed to allow for the inclusion of a conscience clause in the legislation, but stated he would not proceed with changes relating to pregnancy resulting from sexual crime.

3. In February 2015 the Human Rights Commission successfully applied for leave to judicially review the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland at the High Court.

4. In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls. In the Human Rights Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

5. In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime. A summary of responses can be found at:https://www.dojni.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-abortion-2014

9. Case Facts

1. In forming its view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission has considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

2. The legal case is that Articles 3, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

(2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

10. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is able to initiate proceedings in its own name and has done so previously when it successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This means that unmarried and same sex couples can now apply to adopt in Northern Ireland.

11 . The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with section 69(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.

12. What are Third Party Intervenors: Seven third party intervenors were granted permission to enter written submissions in the case. A third party intervener is essentially an outsider to the case and could be a private company, an individual or an NGO. A third party intervenor will make submissions, usually in writing that it considers are relevant to the case before the Court.


30 Nov 2015

NIHRC New Chair of Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

Home » News

Monday 23 November 2015

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has been announced as the New Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions. The Commission will formally take over the Chair in Malta on Monday 23 November before this year’s significant Heads of Government Meeting.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“This is a great opportunity and great honour for the Commission to take up the Commonwealth Chair and is indicative of how Northern Ireland is regarded on the international stage. We hope to build on the work of our predecessor, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia. We also hope to progress existing work on conflict resolution, disability and equality issues. There is clearly a wealth of experiences and expertise between Commonwealth Members and we hope to use our new role as Chair to promote the sharing of best practice and to encourage countries to establish Paris Principle compliant National Human Rights Institutions.”

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a National Human Rights Institution. It is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will begin the role of Chair of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions in November 2015. The Commission will hold the role until 2017.

3. The Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (CFNHRI) is an informal and inclusive body of Commonwealth National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. It has 37 members Commonwealth Members: Africa; Asia; Caribbean; European; North America & Pacific Members. Countries include New Zealand, Canada, Africa, Uganda, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) play an important role in ensuring that internationally accepted human rights standards result in improved enjoyment of human rights on the ground within their respective countries.

4. The mandate of the Forum is to promote networking, sharing of information, experiences and best practices, encouraging countries to establish Paris Principle-compliant NHRIs, and assisting national institutions to fulfil their mandated activities. The Forum is intended to complement and support the activities of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and existing regional coordination or accreditation bodies.

5. Find out more about the work of the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions at: http://cfnhri.org/


23 Nov 2015

Strategic Planning Message from the Chief Commissioner

Home » News

6 November 2015

The Human Rights Commission is keen to get your views on what work we should be concentrating on over the next three years.

Within the Commission’s life span we have investigated many issues including Nursing Homes, Emergency Healthcare, Prisons and Immigration services. We have provided advice on what should be in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

We want to hear from you on where our priorities should lie. Tell us what you think we should focus on above and beyond our daily work to promote and protect the human rights of everyone in Northern Ireland. Our priorities are currently good governance, austerity and dealing with the past. Do these priorities still hold good or should we concentrate on other issues?

What exactly can we do? We can investigate human rights protections in the Criminal Justice System, Healthcare, Education, within any area of public service including the Government. We can go anywhere in Northern Ireland to look at any area where human rights are engaged.

Tell us what is concerning you in your community or what issues are affecting you and your family most. Even if you think that they may not be a rights issue, you should still let us know as human rights are often right at the heart of our daily lives.

You can let us know your views by filling in this short survey

Thank you for giving your views we really appreciate it!


06 Nov 2015

Justice Committee to be advised on the need for Prisoner Ombudsman Investigation Powers

Home » News

5 November 2015

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission will today advise the Justice Committee that the Prisoner Ombudsman should have a power to carry out investigations on his or her own initiative. The Commission is providing evidence to the Assembly Justice Committee on the proposed Justice (No.2) Bill Bill.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said:

“We welcome that the Bill will put the Prisoner Ombudsman on a statutory footing – however we feel strongly that the office should be given an independent investigative power. As it currently stands the Ombudsman must be directed by the Department of Justice, we believe it needs to have the power to investigate on its own initiative. Today’s critical report on Maghaberry prison provides no clearer illustration of why having a robust system is necessary. We will be highlighting this with Committee Members today.”

In its written evidence to the Justice Committee on the Justice (No.2) Bill the Human Rights Commission:

• advises that the Bill be amended to provide the Prisoner Ombudsman with a power to carry out investigations on his or her own initiative

• recommends that the Committee consider the inclusion of an additional function to provide that the Ombudsman must promote understanding and awareness of its complaints procedures to ensure that they are accessible to all prisoners

• recommends, in light of the emphasis the Committee of Ministers have placed on investigators having the power to compel witnesses to ensure an effective investigation, that the Committee consider whether the Prisoner Ombudsman should be given a specific power to compel witnesses to assist in its investigations

• advises that provided adequate resourcing is allocated, the statutory framework for the office of the Prisoner Ombudsman should provide prompt and expeditious investigations into deaths in custody

• advises that clause 33(7) be amended to provide that: “Regulations must make provision as to the procedures to be followed in relation to reports under this section and must in particular include provisions…enabling the Ombudsman to publish the whole or any part of a report”

• welcomes the emphasis placed on the involvement of the family of a deceased person in an investigation into a death by the Prisoner Ombudsman.

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: Claire.Martin@nihrc.org (028) 9024 3987.

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. The Chief Commissioner Les Allamby and Commission staff will provide oral evidence on the Justice No.2 Bill to the Justice Committee on Thursday 5 November from 3pm. You can watch the evidence session live here.

3. Access the Human Rights Commission’s full submission to the Committee here.


05 Nov 2015

Launch of Interactive Human Rights Guide

Home » News

2 November 2015

The NI Human Rights Commission, working in partnership with OFMDFM, has developed an interactive web resource intended to support civil servants in delivering their human rights responsibilities and to act as a reference for human rights information and guidance. The online resource has been designed for civil servants but can be accessed by anyone who wants to find out more about human rights in practice.

Head of the Civil Service Dr Malcolm McKibbin, BSc MBA DPhil CEng FICE stated:

“The work done by civil servants in NICS departments impacts on people’s lives and environment and therefore has relevance to human rights, particularly in key areas such as, but not restricted to, health, education, child protection, welfare, housing, justice, and disability. I would recommend that all staff take time to look at the new interactive guide.”

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“The Human Rights Commission has welcomed the successful partnership training programme developed with the Northern Ireland Civil Service. This work has attracted positive interest amongst other public authorities in Northern Ireland and further afield. We encourage all civil servants to complete the introductory e-learning course available through the Centre for Applied Learning. In addition all those with responsibility for developing policy and legislation should consider the policy and human rights course as integral to their continuing professional development. This has now supplemented, through the support of the OFMDFM, an online resource designed to assist civil servants in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987.

Notes to Editors

1. This new guide provides a comprehensive overview of human rights law and how it applies to the work of the NICS. It also provides a useful range tools and reference materials. The guide can be found on the Commission’s website or at: NICSHumanrightsGuide

2. The Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland (NI).


02 Nov 2015

Workshop with Bahrain National Institution for Human Rights

Home » News

The National Institution for Human Rights (NIHR)‘s delegation participated in a workshop on human rights training programme with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. The workshop outlined methods of dealing with reports related to the comprehensive periodic review and the standards of human rights equality, fairness.

NIHRC Director Virginia McVea met the delegation and briefed them on the Commission’s work and objectives.The programme was hosted by the Global Peacebuilding Institute.

The delegation comprised the National Institution’s President Dr. Abdulaziz Abul; Vice President Abdullah Al-Derazi; Head of Civil and Political Rights Committee Jamila Suleiman; Head of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee Fareed Ghazi; Head of Complaints, Monitoring and Follow up Committee Maria Khoury; and, Assistant Secretary-General Yasser Shaheen.


30 Oct 2015

Political Inertia Stalling Human Rights Progress

Home » News

13 October 2015

The Human Rights Commission has published a report to the United Nations in advance of the United Kingdom’s examination by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Commission will be giving evidence before the Committee tomorrow in Geneva.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

“The Commission has provided an extensive analysis for the UN highlighting gaps in protections for economic, social and cultural rights. We are very concerned that political inertia is preventing progress in human rights protections.

“There are at least five areas facing unacceptable delays. We have no effective anti-poverty strategy. Strategies have not been put in place in relation to child poverty, gender equality, domestic violence and sexual abuse, or childcare. In addition, the Northern Ireland Executive is yet to deliver a racial equality or sexual orientation strategy.

Work is being done in many of these areas, but the final products have not been published. Across the devolved institutions measures to enhance health, housing, social security and other rights are being affected by an absence of government decisions. Good intentions are insufficient to deliver human rights obligations. The Northern Ireland Executive must be seen to act on issues that will improve the lives of local people.”

The Commission has advised that the UN Committee to ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive:

  • Anti-Poverty: What immediate measures are being taken to develop an anti-poverty strategy?
  • Equality: What steps are being taken to simplify and harmonise equality legislation within a Single Equality Act?
  • Strengthen equality legislation on the grounds of gender, race and disability
  • Health: What steps are being taken to implement Transforming Your Care, and to improve community care services?
  • What steps are being taken to progress the Commission’s recommendations during its Inquiry into Emergency Care?
  • Social Security: When a Welfare Reform Bill will be introduced into the N.I Assembly and what mitigating measures will be taken into account for Northern Ireland should Westminster legislate on this matter?
  • Disability: What steps are being taken to develop a new Disability strategy post 2017?
  • Childcare: Clarify how the draft childcare strategy will increase the availability and affordability of childcare places in Northern Ireland and identify a timeline for its implementation?
  • Gender Equality: What steps are being taken to prioritise the development of a gender equality strategy?

The next session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights takes place in Geneva on Wednesday 14 October 2015. The Human Rights Commission will present its advice at this session.

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987.

Notes to editors

1. The Human Rights Commission submitted its report to the Committee in September 2015. The performance of the United Kingdom will be considered by the Committee at a pre-session working group on 14 October 2015. The Committee’s examination of the UK will take place at the United Nations offices in Geneva in June 2016.

2. As part of the Human Rights Commission’s engagement with the United Nations and Council of Europe treaty monitoring processes, it presents this submission regarding the UK’s Sixth Periodic Report on compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

3. The Human Rights Commission is one of the three ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institutions in the UK. As a National Human Rights Institution the Commission engages with and reports to the United Nations’ and Council of Europe’s treaty monitoring processes.

4. The Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland (NI).

5. A copy of the full submission to the UN Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights is available here.


14 Oct 2015

PILA Guest piece by Les Allamby

Home » News

08 October 2015

The Chief Commissioner writes for PILA this month updating them on the work of the Commission.

The Commission continues its work across Northern Ireland promoting best practice and highlighting any gaps in human rights protections. Our aim is to show the practical value of human rights principles and standards. Here is a roundup of what we have been up to.

A new Human Rights and Business Forum is underway, led by businesses alongside trade unions and NGOs and facilitated by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. In recent years a spotlight has focused on the impact of business on the rights of workers, customers and local communities. Since the United Nations adopted the UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) as a global framework for addressing the human rights impacts of corporations in 2011, the momentum to embed these at a national level has accelerated.

The first two meetings have heard presentations from businesses on measures to prevent labour exploitation and from companies that have used the Ethical Trading Initiative’s ‘Base Code’ as a method of recognising and managing their human rights impact. The Forum will help ensure Northern Ireland has a voice in the UK’s Second National Action Plan, which is due to be launched in Geneva next month. The Forum is also developing a local guide with case studies to show how human rights principles can be effectively put into best business practice. Northern Ireland businesses or NGOs are encouraged to join. The Forum will also be organising an event at the Human Rights Consortium’s Festival in early December.

The Commission has also been working in partnership with the Northern Ireland Civil Service to develop practical human rights training tools for civils servants. In the autumn we will launch an open portal, housed through our own website, which will provide access to all of our recently developed training materials and resources.

We continue to take strategic litigation in our endeavour to provide remedies for the most vulnerable. We are waiting on a judgment from our judicial review on the law on termination of pregnancy. We are seeking to change the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest. Our view is that the current law does not protect women and girl’s right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, their right to privacy or their right to freedom from discrimination. We expect judgement on this landmark case in the autumn.

Almost weekly we are before the Assembly Committees providing our assessment on the gaps within incoming legislation and consultations. From the Mental Capacity Bill to the Justice Bill we have provided our assessment of whether a Bill is compatible with human rights. As with all our work we base all our advices on the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards. On a number of occasions we have been able to persuade an Assembly Committee and subsequently the Northern Ireland Executive to make changes to legislation for example, with the recent introduction of Domestic Violence Protection Orders to the recent Justice Bill. We will shortly publish a technical analysis of the human rights obligations specifically engaged by the dealing with the past measures contained in the Stormont House Agreement.

On the international stage we continue to fulfil our role as an ‘A’ Status accredited National Human Rights Institution. We recently reported our concerns ahead of the upcoming examination by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Commission identified over 30 areas in Northern Ireland which require attention. We have advised that steps should be taken by the State Party to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 12 years of age in addition to calling for immediate and effective action to address the issue of paramilitary attacks against children.

Following our ground breaking human rights inquiry into Accident and Emergency care we are now working to follow up its recommendations. We are therefore delighted that the Belfast Health and Social Trust has agreed to a pilot project focussing on care in emergency departments following our Inquiry.

In June, for the first time, I made a joint presentation with Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement. We outlined our concerns over the UK Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’. The Commission has also worked behind the scenes to raise concerns that any legislative proposals should not undermine commitments contained within the Belfast, St Andrews and Stormont House Agreement. A UK consultation document is expected before Christmas.

On December 10 2015 the Commission will launch its annual statement on human rights at Stormont. The keynote speaker at the launch will be Jon Snow the journalist and Channel 4 news presenter who will talk on why the media doesn’t get human rights. For more detail on this event of any of the Commission’s work contact info@nihrc.org.

Follow us on Twitter @NIHRC.


08 Oct 2015

Young People Highlight Local Human Rights Issues

Home » News

7 October 2015

We are reporting to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva today highlighting the human rights issues in Northern Ireland.

Check out our video on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:

A group of young people recently visited the Commission and gave us their views on the transfer test, age discrimination and how to improve mental health care.

Why not let us know your views on what the most important rights issues are facing children & young people in Northern Ireland today.

Or you can send us your pictures or clips on this issue by 10 November 2015 We will be showcasing them on 20 November 2015 Universal Children’s Day.

Further information:

Contact Claire.Martin@nihrc.org for further info.


07 Oct 2015

Readvertisement for Digital Communications Volunteer Opportunity

Home » News

6 October 2015

We are currently re- advertising for a volunteer placement at the Commission:

Digital Communications- The Commission is offering an opportunity to work alongside staff and Commissioners to support our digital communications work.

The closing date to 12 noon on Wednesday 14 October 2015. The application form and job description can be found here.

Previous applicants need not apply.


06 Oct 2015

Online help at hand for your fundamental rights issues

Home » News

​6 October 2015

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights has today launched Clarity which stands for the ‘Complaints, Legal Assistance and Rights Information Tool for you’. It’s an interactive tool allows EU citizens to find help with their fundamental rights problems.

By answering just a few questions you can find which non-judicial bodies can best assist you in a given EU Member State. The pilot, which the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has participated in, has information about the mandates of non-judicial bodies in Northern Ireland, Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

To Access Clarity Click on: http://stag.fra.eworx.gr/clarity/en/tool


06 Oct 2015

Playing our Part to Help Refugees

Home » News

22 September 2015

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby writes for the Belfast Telegraph

We are in the middle of a humanitarian crisis, dealing with people fleeing Syria and elsewhere. Half of those arriving in Europe are coming directly from Syria while others are fleeing Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-torn countries.

It’s worth remembering that the substantial majority seek refuge in neighbouring countries rather than taking the risky journey to Europe. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution in other countries.

There is clearly a need for a co-ordinated European Union-wide approach to those arriving, alongside humanitarian support for those countries shouldering the burden in countries neighbouring war-torn zones.

Moreover, solving the conflict in Syria and elsewhere through diplomatic and political means is also a vital but far from easy component in any durable resolution.

The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey of 2012 revealed that public opinion here is more positive on immigration than in Great Britain. Recent rallies and events support this. Northern Ireland’s willingness to take part in the UK Government’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme is particularly welcome.

The Refugee and Asylum forum locally has identified key actions that could be delivered by the Northern Ireland Executive.

They include a long-term commitment to funding the Syrian refugee settlement, as the UK Government is only guaranteeing funds for the first year; developing a refugee integration strategy to co-ordinate and monitor interventions and develop initiatives to ensure refugees from Syria, or elsewhere, do not face destitution; providing access to free accredited English language classes for those who need it and making the OFMDFM crisis fund a permanent arrangement.

Harnessing the energy of and funding local refugee support organisations is also essential to ensuring a safe and sustainable programme for refugees.

Despite our political difficulties, the forum’s action points are readily achievable. We are not impotent. The old adage of think globally, act locally has never been more apposite.


22 Sep 2015

Call for Improvement to Protect the Rights of Children in Care

Home » News

21 August 2015

A new research report released today by the Human Rights Commission examines the Rights of Children in Care in Northern Ireland. It highlights there are currently more ‘looked after children’ in Northern Ireland than at any time since the Children Order came into effect and that the numbers of child protection and children in need referrals are on an upward curve.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“In 2015 we are even more aware how very vulnerable children in care are, children who for whatever reason cannot live with their families, must be offered the highest level of human rights protection. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires the best interests of the child to be a primary consideration in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies.

At the time compiling this report there were over 2,800 looked after children in Northern Ireland, almost one fifth of these children had been in the system for 5-10 years. Our research identifies on-going difficulties with the current system and indicates that reforms are required in a number of areas. Our aim is for improvements be made without delay as it is essential that our laws and practices protect children’s human rights at every step of their journey through the care system.”

The report identifies a number of areas for improvement, including:

Practice of Moving Children: The report highlights that some children are facing placement moves due to financial pressure within Trusts’, for example, moving from private foster placements, to Trust’s foster placements. Of the looked after children who had placement moves in the year 2012- 2013, over 20% had between one to three placement moves. While these figures indicate that the majority of Looked After Children are in relatively stable placements, those who continue to experience placement moves are exposed to “a level of intense disruption” and “a risk to their sense of security and stability”.

Delay in N.I Adoption Process: The report shines the spotlight again on the N.I Adoption process. Despite the Department for Health and Social Services and Public Safety’s recognition are far back as 2006 that the current law is out of date. The Adoption order NI Order 1987 has not been reformed. The Commission recommends that Department should expeditiously bring forward new legislation which addresses concerns surrounding adoption in NI, including delay.

The right of the child to be heard and taken seriously: The report captures the voice of looked after young people who expressed that they feel a strong sense of powerlessness and lack of decision making in their care. It indicates that inadequate information is available regarding the protection of the right of affected children to be heard and taken seriously, as well as the participation of parents, at crucial stages of the child welfare system including:

• in the care planning process;

• in determinations regarding secure accommodation.

Concerns over criminalisation of young people in residential care: Interviewee’s in the report highlighted that young people in residential care were being penalised for offences in a way that they would not if the resided with their parents. They also stated that the practice of calling police out should only occur as a measure of last resort and that focus should be on finding alternative means of dealing with incidents. Concern was also expressed by some of those interviewed for the purposes of this report at the lack of consistency across residential care settings in how they responded to incidents, and suggested that there was a need for more staff training and learning from good practice.

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org (028) 9024 3987).

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. Children should not be separated from their parents unless it is in the child’s best interests and States are required to provide assistance to parents in fulfilling their parental responsibilities in order to prevent the need for alternative care. However, international standards also require the child’s safety to be secured and in certain circumstances the child will need to be placed in alternative care in order to fulfil these rights.

3. At 31 March, 2014 there were 2,858 looked after children in Northern Ireland.

• 249 (9%) been looked after for more than 10 years

• 547 (19%) children had been looked after for between 5 and 10 years.

4. At 31 March, 2013 there were 2, 807 looked after children in Northern Ireland.

• 247 children (9%) were Looked After for more than 10 years.

• 529 children (19%) were Looked After for between 5 and 10 years.

• 447 children (16%) were Looked After for between 3 and 5 years.

• 862 children (31%) were Looked After for between 1 and 3 years.

• 722 children (26%) were Looked After for less than a year.

5. The UNCRC requires the best interests of the child to be a primary consideration “in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies.”This requirement is also reflected in international human rights standards regarding the rights of children such as the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children. Similarly the Declaration on Social and Legal Principles relating to the Protection and Welfare of Children, with Special Reference to Foster Placement and Adoption Nationally and Internationally states that: “In all matters relating to the placement of a child outside the care of the child’s own parents, the best interests of the child, particularly his or her need for affection and right to security and continuing care, should be the paramount consideration.”

6. Access the Report: Alternative Care and Children’s Rights in Northern Ireland


21 Aug 2015

Report Shines Spotlight on Children and Young Peoples Rights

Home » News

12 August 2015

On International Youth Day the Human Rights Commission has published its report to the United Nations Committee ahead of the upcoming examination by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Commission has identified over 30 areas in Northern Ireland which require attention.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner, Les Allamby commented:

“This report provides us with an invaluable opportunity to shine a spotlight on young people’s rights. The Commission has highlighted a number of recommendations made by the United Nations in 2008 that have not yet been implemented and therefore require urgent action. These include raising the age of criminal responsibility, ending corporal punishment and reducing the use of remand for children in the criminal justice system.”

The Commission has advised that the UN Committee should ask the UK Government, including the Northern Ireland Executive to:

  • Take immediate action to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 12 years of age.
  • Condemn the ongoing attacks by paramilitary organisations and ask the UK Government and the N.I Executive to take immediate and effective action to address the issue of paramilitary attacks against children.
  • Ban smacking of children without delay.
  • End Academic Selection-The UN Committee called for academic selection to be abolished in 2008 and despite the end of the 11+, the current system of testing has allowed a ‘two-tier culture’ to remain.

Les Allamby added:

“The purpose of this report is to highlight what areas we believe the United Nations Committee should focus on as it prepares to examine the UK Governments human rights record. We want to make sure Northern Ireland’s circumstances are at the forefront of this process. Human Rights belong to our children and young people. It is important that they are adequately protected.”

The report marks the first stage in the United Nations examination process and the Human Rights Commission welcomes any public feedback as we prepare our future submissions.

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: (028) 9024 3987).

Notes to editors

1. The NIHRC submitted its report to the Committee in July 2015. The performance of the United Kingdom will be considered by the Committee at a pre-session working group in October 2015. The Committee’s examination of the UK will take place at the United Nations offices in Geneva in June 2016.

2. This report marks the first stage in the Commission’s engagement with the UN Committee in this process and the Commission would therefore value any feedback as we prepare our future submissions.

3. Smacking- Corporal Punishment: Article 2 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 remains in force. This provides for the defence of reasonable punishment in respect of common assault tried summarily.

4. Access the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s full report to the Committee here:

5. As part of the NIHRC’s engagement with the United Nations and Council of Europe treaty monitoring processes, it presents this submission regarding the UK’s Fifth Periodic Report on compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child(the Convention) to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child(the Committee) 72nd Session.

6. The Commission is one of the three ‘A’ status National Human Rights Institutions in the UK. As a National Human Rights Institution the NIHRC engages with and reports to the United Nations’ and Council of Europe’s treaty monitoring processes.

7. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with the Paris Principles the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of measures undertaken by the UK Government to promote and protect human rights, specifically within Northern Ireland (NI).


12 Aug 2015

Annual Report & Accounts 2014-2015

Home » News

16 July 2015

The Human Rights Commission’s Annual Report & Accounts has been laid in the House of Commons today. This is the sixteenth report of the Commission and shows how we have performed our functions during the year 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015. The Annual Report also includes the Commission’s financial statements for the year ending 31 March 2015.

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org, (028) 9024 3987).

Notes to editors

1. Access the Commission’s: Annual Report & Accounts 2014-15

2. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


16 Jul 2015

Human Rights Commission to visit West Belfast

Home » News

The human rights concerns of people living in West Belfast are set to be examined when the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission visits the area on Wednesday 1 July 2015.

Commissioners and staff will spend the day meeting with organisations and community groups – including a public meeting at Conway Education Centre, visits to Shankill Women’s Centre, Suffolk Lenadoon Interface Group and the PSNI – to learn about local human rights issues and concerns.

The visit is part of the NIHRC’s on-going programme of community visits across Northern Ireland.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said:

“We’re are looking forward to meeting with representatives from West Belfast to hear first-hand what human rights issues are facing local groups and individuals. All aspects of community work and life are important to the Commission and we are keen to take forward any human rights issues having an impact on people’s lives. We will continue to factor in the information we receive into our ongoing programme of work in 2015.”

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org, (028) 9024 3987).

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. NIHRC Community Visit to West Belfast 1 July 2015

• 10:30: Public meeting in Conway Education Centre

• 12:30: Visit to Shankill Women’s Centre

• 2:30: Visit to Suffolk Lenadoon Interface Group

4:00: Meeting with Local PSNI


30 Jun 2015

Joint Statement of IHREC and NIHRC

Home » News

25 June 2015

The Chief Commissioners of the two human rights institutions, North and South, today made a joint presentation for the first time to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

The two Commissions were invited by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement to discuss the potential effects of the UK Government’s proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) and Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) outlined their concerns over the UK Government’s proposals to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a ‘British Bill of Rights’.

The two chief commissioners informed the Committee that proposals to reduce the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights to advisory opinions would have ramifications for the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.

Ms Logan stated: “The importance of promoting and protecting human rights is fundamental to safeguarding peace, respect and inclusion in communities across the island of Ireland.

“Members of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission are concerned that the terms of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement may be affected if the British Government carries through on its pre-election manifesto promises to repeal the UK Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights.

“As members of the Committee will be aware, human rights protections were a core feature, not an ‘add on’, of the Peace Process and the negotiations around the Agreement.”

Mr Allamby informed the Committee: “In effect, human rights protection and compliance has been a cornerstone of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements.

“Attempts to dilute the role of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence, runs counter to the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The Commission believes that any legislative proposals should not undermine the commitments contained within the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.”

In September 2014, the Home Secretary Theresa May announced to the Conservative Party annual conference that the party intended to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a “British Bill of Rights”.

On 3 October 2014, the Conservative Party published “Protecting Human Rights in the UK – the Conservatives’ proposals for changing Britain’s Human Rights Laws”.

The key objectives are to:

· Repeal the Human Rights Act

· Break the formal link between British Courts and the European Court of Human Rights

· End the ability of the European Court of Human Rights to force the United Kingdom (UK) to change the law

· Prevent laws being rewritten through interpretation

· Limit the use of human rights law to the most serious cases and the reach of cases to the UK

· Amend the Ministerial Code to remove any ambiguity about the duty of ministers to follow the will of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

It also set out that the courts in in the UK would no longer be required to take into account rulings from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and judgements finding violations of human rights would be treated as advisory.

In the Queen’s speech in May, setting out the new government’s legislative proposals it was announced that it: “will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. This would reform and modernise our human rights legal framework and restore common sense to the application of human rights laws. It would also protect existing rights, which are an essential part of a modern, democratic society, and better protect against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights.”

The two chief commissioners expressed concern that no formal consideration has yet been given to the implications of these proposals for the Good Friday Agreement.

Ms Logan stated: “Repeal of the Act and withdrawal from the European Convention would have negative consequences for the uniformity of human rights standards across these islands. The importance of promoting and protecting human rights is fundamental to safeguarding peace, respect and inclusion in communities across the island of Ireland.”

Mr Allamby said that “the Agreement confirms the UK Government’s intention to incorporate into Northern Ireland the ECHR with direct access to the courts and remedies for breaches of the Convention including powers for the courts to overrule Assembly legislation on grounds of inconsistency. The incorporation was put into effect by the introduction of the Human Rights Act from 2 October 2000.”

The Joint Committee met on Wednesday 24 June at Farmleigh House to discuss the implications for the Good Friday Agreement of the British Government’s proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a ‘British Bill of Rights’.

Ends/

For further information please contact Claire Martin on 02890243987.

Address by Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to the JOC on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

Address by Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission to the JOC on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement

Notes to Editors

On June 18, the three national human rights institutions in the UK, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain issued a joint statement to the UN Human Rights Committee of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The letter set out the value of the Human Rights Act as ‘providing essential protection to everyone in the United Kingdom enabling fundamental rights to be enforced in domestic court’. The Human Rights Association reflects and is embedded in the constitutional arrangements for the UK. In particular, it maintains parliamentary sovereignty, a primary role for domestic courts in the interpretation of the ECHR and is central to arrangements for devolution in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

The letter is available at this link:

http://www.nihrc.org/uploads/publications/NHRI_Joint_Letter.pdf

In Ireland, the European Convention on Human Rights is given effect through the European Convention of Human Rights Act of 2003.

The Good Friday Agreement (or ‘Belfast Agreement’ or ‘British-Irish Agreement’ or ‘Northern Ireland Peace Agreement’) was agreed in Belfast on Good Friday, 10 April 1998. It consisted of two inter-related documents:

1. Multi-party Agreement by most of the political parties in Northern Ireland.

2. British-Irish Agreement, an international agreement between Ireland and the UK - the legal element of the Good Friday Agreement, where the two Governments affirmed their commitment to support/implement the provisions of the Multi-Party Agreement.

Under ‘Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity’, a requirement was placed on the Irish Government to ‘establish a Human Rights Commission with a mandate and remit equivalent to that within Northern Ireland’.

Section 8(i) of the Human Rights Commission Act 2000 gave the former IHRC the power to participate in the Joint Committee. This function was reaffirmed in s.10(2)(q) of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014.

This section also established the Joint Committee of representatives of the two Human Rights Commissions, North and South.


26 Jun 2015

Annual Human Rights Lecture with Special Guest Navi Pillay

Home » News

Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay recently visited Belfast and delivered a speech to the Inaugural Human Rights Lecture at the Bar Council.

Watch Ms Pillay’s speech:


Watch the full Annual Human Rights Lecture which includes speeches from the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay and the Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Les Allamby:

Further Information:

  1. The Lecture was held on Tuesday 9 June 2015 at the Bar Council in the Royal Courts of Justice.
  2. Further event details can be viewed here.

23 Jun 2015

Judgment Reserved in Human Rights Commission’s Review of Termination of Pregnancy Law

Home » News

17 June 2015

CASE FACT SHEET

Judgment has been reserved in the Human Rights Commission’s judicial review of the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland. The case was heard at the High Court on Monday 15 June until Wednesday 17 June. The Commission successfully applied for a review of the law in February. The Commission believes the case directly engages the right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom from discrimination as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“It was appropriate for the Human Rights Commission to take this legal challenge in our own name. We recognise the particular sensitivities of the issue. It is a matter of significant public interest to ensure that the rights of vulnerable women and girls in these situations are protected. It is in everyone’s interest that the law is clarified in this area. We have made our arguments before the Court and now await Justice Horner’s decision, which we expect to receive sometime in the Autumn.”

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

The Commission issued legal proceedings against the Respondent in the case, the Department of Justice in December 2014. It has taken this action as a last resort. Since November 2013 we have repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law is, in the Commission’s view, a violation of human rights.

In the case of the Northern Bishops conference and Sarah Ewart the judge heard brief oral arguments from both. Alongside the arguments about whether the Convention applies in these specific circumstances there was also legal argument about whether the Commission had the powers to bring this case and whether it was appropriate to proceed in its own name without a victim. Further legal argument was made about the standing of other international human rights treaties and their committees including the UNCRC, CEDAW and UNCRPD.

A final decision in the case is not expected until after the Court’s summer recess.

Further information:

For further information please contact: Claire Martin on 07717731873 or 02890 243987 Claire.Martin@nihrc.org

Notes to Editors

1. In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime.

2. In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls. In the Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

3. In February 2015 the Human Rights Commission successfully applied for leave to judicially review the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland at the High Court.

4. In April 2015, Speaking after the public consultation was completed, Justice Minister David Ford announced a recommended change to Northern Ireland’s abortion law. He stated he would ask the Executive for its approval to bring forward legislation to the Assembly which would allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. He also proposed to allow for the inclusion of a conscience clause in the legislation, but stated he would not proceed with changes relating to pregnancy resulting from sexual crime.

5. Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court in Belfast from 15-17 June 2015.

6. In forming it’s view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission has considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

7. The legal case is that Articles 3,8,and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

8. The Commission is able to initiate proceedings in its own name and has done so previously when it successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This means that unmarried and same sex couples can now apply to adopt in Northern Ireland.

9. The Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with section 69(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.

10. What is a Judicial Review: It is a type of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.

11. Role of third party intervenors: A third party intervention is the term given to the process by which a body that is not a party in the case makes submissions to the Court. A third party intervener is essentially an outsider to the case and could be a private company or individual, an NGO, a Secretary of State or the Attorney General. A third party intervenor will make submissions, usually in writing that it considers are relevant to the case before the Court.


17 Jun 2015

UK Commissions Alert United Nations Committee on Human Rights Act

Home » News

18 June 2015

The three UK National Human Rights Institutions have jointly written to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the potential changes to the human rights framework in the UK.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby stated:

“The three UK Commissions’ have alerted the United Nations Human Rights Committee to the current UK situation. We believe that the Human Rights Act has provided essential protection to everyone in the UK, enabling fundamental rights to be enforced in our domestic courts. It is our view that changing our human rights laws would have significant constitutional and social consequences.”

The joint letter follows the announcement in the Queens speech that the UK Government intends, in the next year, to” bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act.”

The Joint Human Rights Commissions letter states:

“The Commissions will examine any legislative proposals in detail, and we consider that any changes to our human rights laws must pass a simple test: do they take us forwards or back? We would not support a reversal of the leading global role the UK has long played in protecting and promoting human rights at home and abroad.”

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org, (028) 9024 3987.

Notes to editors

1. Read the joint letter in full here

2. By way of the Queen’s Speech to Parliament, the UK Government has set out its intentions for legislative change over the next year. The UK Government has stated that it:

“will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. This would reform and modernise our human rights legal framework and restore common sense to the application of human rights laws. It would also protect existing rights, which are an essential part of a modern, democratic society, and better protect against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws.”

3. The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) gives domestic effect to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

4. Prime Minister’s Office, Queen’s Speech 2015, 27th May 2015, available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/430149/QS_lobby_pack_FINAL_NEW_2.pdf

5. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

6. There are three human rights Commission’s in the UK - the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Great Britain. All three have been accredited with ‘A’ status by the United Nations. Accreditation of NHRIs takes place within the UN system according to the “Paris Principles”, a set of guidelines adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1993. The principles outline that an NHRI should have a foundation in national law, be independent from government, have a mandate to cover a broad range of international human rights standards, demonstrate pluralism and independence in the selection and appointment of members and a responsibility to work with both civil society and the state.


18 Jun 2015

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay Visits Belfast

Home » News

9 June 2015

Navi Pillay, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights will visit Belfast later today to deliver a key note speech on human rights and global politics on behalf of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“It will be a great honour to welcome the esteemed Ms Navi Pillay to Northern Ireland to deliver the Annual Human Rights Commission Lecture. We look forward to hearing her experiences of human rights globally and to considering how they could be applied to the Northern Ireland context.”

Ms Navi Pillay added:

“It was always a longstanding personal wish of mine to come to Belfast. My experiences as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and as a South African have embedded my belief that Human rights belong to all people worldwide, rich and poor. No single jurisdiction can claim to have a perfect human rights record. There are issues of concern in every country in the world, each must address these issues nationally, and also pay attention to issues that affect them globally. It is in this spirit, I look forward to learning more about Northern Ireland.”

Navi Pillay is a distinguished South African lawyer who was the first woman from the non-white minority to set up her own law practice in Natal. She became a High Court judge in South Africa in 1995. She was then elected to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda subsequently becoming President of the Tribunal. In 2003 Navi was elected to the first panel of judges of the International Criminal Court. From 2008 until 2014 she became the High Commissioner at the United Nations. Her speech in Belfast will be a reflection of her experience of the interaction of international human rights and global political considerations.

Further Information

For further information please contact Claire Martin on Claire.Martin@nihrc.org or 02890243987.

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Lecture will be held on Tuesday 9 June from 4-6pm at the Bar Council in the Royal Courts of Justice.


09 Jun 2015

Human Rights Commission’s Review of Termination of Pregnancy Law to begin

Home » News

FACT SHEET ON JUDICIAL REVIEW

The Human Rights Commission’s judicial review of the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland is set to begin at the High Court on Monday 15 June. The Commission successfully applied for a review of the law in February, the hearing is expected to last three days. The Commission believes the case directly engages the right to be free from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to privacy, and the right to freedom from discrimination as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“It is appropriate for the Human Rights Commission to take this legal challenge in our own name. We recognise the particular sensitivities of the issue. It is a matter of significant public interest to ensure that the rights of vulnerable women and girls in these situations are protected. It is in everyone’s interest that the law is clarified in this area.”

Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. It is unlawful to perform a termination of pregnancy unless on these grounds. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully performs a termination.

The Commission issued legal proceedings against the Respondent in the case, the Department of Justice in December 2014. It has taken this action as a last resort. Since November 2013 we have repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law is, in the Commission’s view, a violation of human rights.”

The Attorney General for Northern Ireland has also sought to intervene and will make oral representations to the Court. The Court has also granted a number of parties leave to intervene and make written submission’s in the Commission’s case.. A final decision in the case is not expected until after the Court’s summer recess.

Further information:

For further information please contact: Claire.Martin@nihrc.org 02890243987.

Notes to Editors

1. For full details of the hearing please check the Courts NI daily lists here

2. In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime.

3. In December 2014 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls. In the Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

4. In February 2015 the Human Rights Commission successfully applied for leave to judicially review the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland at the High Court.

5. In April 2015, Speaking after the public consultation was completed, Justice Minister David Ford announced a recommended change to Northern Ireland’s abortion law. He stated he would ask the Executive for its approval to bring forward legislation to the Assembly which would allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. He also proposed to allow for the inclusion of a conscience clause in the legislation, but stated he would not proceed with changes relating to pregnancy resulting from sexual crime.

6. Human Rights Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy is listed for hearing at the High Court in Belfast from 15-17 June 2015.

7. In forming it’s view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission has considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

8. The legal case is that Articles 3,8,and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

9. The Commission is able to initiate proceedings in its own name and has done so previously when it successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This means that unmarried and same sex couples can now apply to adopt in Northern Ireland.

10. The Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with section 69(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.

11. What is a Judicial Review: It is a type of court proceeding in which a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.

12. Role of third party intervenors: A third party intervention is the term given to the process by which a body that is not a party in the case makes submissions to the Court. A third party intervener is essentially an outsider to the case and could be a private company or individual, an NGO, a Secretary of State or the Attorney General. A third party intervenor will make submissions, usually in writing that it considers are relevant to the case before the Court.


04 Jun 2015

Chief Commissioner Welcomes Assembly Debate on Human Rights Act

Home » News

1 June 2015

The Chief Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission has responded to the motion on the Human Rights Act which is due to be debated in the Assembly today.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“We welcome that the Northern Ireland Assembly will be debating the Human Rights Act today and recognise that Members have acknowledged this important issue. The future of the Act has been the subject of much speculation and public discourse. Our position on this is clear- any proposed changes to our current human rights framework, must not reduce the protections contained in the Human Rights Act, nor weaken the mechanisms for securing redress for breaches of human rights.

The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement committed the UK Government to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into Northern Ireland law, with direct access to the courts, and remedies for breaches of the Convention. The Human Rights Act fulfilled this commitment. The Commission has repeatedly advised against a move which can only serve to undermine a foundation stone of the Northern Ireland peace process, reduce hard won protections for everyone living in the UK, and damage the states international reputation.”

Ends

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org or 02890243987.

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. The N.I Assembly Order paper for 1 June 2015 has listed the following motion for discussion in the Plenary session:

Private Members’ Business

Motion: Human Rights Act 1998

Proposed:

That this Assembly recognises the vital importance that the Human Rights Act 1998 plays in the lives of citizens of the United Kingdom; further recognises the importance of this Act to the Good Friday Agreement and the devolution of policing and justice powers; and rejects any attempts by the Conservative Government to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998.

Mr S Dickson

Mr C Lyttle

Ms A Lo


01 Jun 2015

A&E Inquiry Findings Published

Home » News

Wednesday 27 May 2015

The Human Rights Commission has today published its report into Emergency Health Care in Northern Ireland with over one hundred findings and making 26 recommendations to improve the human rights of patients, families, carers and staff.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“With around 700,000 visits each year to emergency departments in Northern Ireland this is an issue which touches almost everyone’s life. Public participation was at the centre of this Inquiry and throughout we heard from patients, families, staff, management and the Department.

The Commission considered quality, accountability and governance of the service. We visited emergency departments throughout Northern Ireland during the day and night. We heard from dedicated staff striving to maintain patient dignity in an often challenging and crowded environment. In such circumstances there were reported instances where patients did not receive assistance with personal care needs, no pain relief, and no access to food and fluids. Of particular concern were cases involving end of life care, the inappropriate transfer of older patients from nursing homes and the experiences of those presenting to A&E in mental health crisis, with dementia or disabilities.

The Commission heard individual cases which amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment but, did not discover evidence of systemic violations of human rights. The importance of human rights are most obvious when we are at our most vulnerable. The right to the highest attainable standard of health is a standard that must be strived for and the respect for dignity and other human rights principles must be adhered to.

The Inquiry also heard of good practices and experiences. Often the introduction of relatively simple measures significantly improved the human rights of patients. Many of these have been introduced with modest costs and there is a clear need to share good practices throughout the system on a more structured basis.

The report recognised that emergency care departments do not control who comes in through the doors or whether the services are in place to allow a patient to move elsewhere in the hospital or back home. The report examined how much money had been allocated to the transition to impending Transforming Your Care following the Compton report in 2011. It is clear that the money has gone on a number of important areas of care and service but, has not focussed on implementing the earlier review. The report recommends getting Transforming Your Care on track alongside other recommendations to improve the situation in emergency care departments. The report’s aim is to be constructive and show that a human rights based approach can improve emergency care department services for both patients and staff.”

Inquiry Key Findings include:

1. There were reported instances where assistance with personal care needs was not provided, no pain relief, and no access to food and fluids for patients.

2. While interactions with staff were often reported to have been positive, person-centred care was, at times, undermined by a perceived disregard, lack of attention or kindness from health professionals.

3. Concerns were raised about the practice of older persons, particularly those with dementia, being transferred alone at night in taxis.

4. A lack of physical provision for blind and partially sighted persons. A lack of buzzers and braille information, made Emergency Departments difficult to navigate. The online version of the 10,000 voices survey was not accessible to blind and partially sighted persons.

5. A number of patients, staff and community and voluntary sector organisations expressed concerns about the lack of privacy for persons experiencing mental health crisis, such as self-harm and attempted suicide, presenting to Emergency Departments. The PSNI identified that 21% of all persons reported missing were from hospitals and predominantly Emergency Departments.

6. The ‘Card Before You Leave’ scheme which instructs that a patient presenting with mental health crisis is given a written appointment with specialists before leaving ED was regarded as critical. Concerns were raised, however, about inconsistencies in its implementation.

7. The Inquiry learned that the amount of Transforming Your Care transitional monies was not as great as initially recommended, and whilst millions were spent on a number of initiatives, the overall impact has not led to the introduction of TYC as envisaged.

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org or 0771 7731873 (mobile).

Notes to editors:

1. The Commission initiated a Human Rights Inquiry into Emergency Healthcare in the summer of 2014. The Commission launched a confidential phone line and held public hearings across N.I from September to December 2014. You can watch all the public hearings again here

2. The Inquiry Panel included NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby, Commissioner Marion Reynolds, a former social services inspector, and Professor Paul Hunt, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. Watch the Panel speak about the Inquiry in this short clip

3. With over 700,000 total attendances at emergency departments (EDs) each year, almost everyone in Northern Ireland will have visited or known someone who has needed to use accident and emergency services. Having completed a scoping exercise in March 2014, taking into account public concern, as well as the ongoing reviews of the health and social care system, the Commission concluded that a human rights examination of emergency healthcare was necessary.

4. The Inquiry was launched on 3 June 2014. It was the first time anywhere in the world that emergency health care had been the subject of a human rights inquiry. The Commission initiated a call for evidence and received 185 submissions were made through the Freephone, written and online arrangements alongside contributions from focus groups.

Public Hearings: Eleven public hearings were held from 4 September 2014 to December 2014. The Inquiry heard from 139 witnesses: including the minister for health, the chief medical and the chief nursing officer, chief executives of the Health and Social Care Board and health and social care trusts, clinicians, professional medical bodies, trade unions, NGOs and patients themselves.

5. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


27 May 2015

Date set for Launch of Human Rights Inquiry Report into Emergency Healthcare

Home » News

The Human Rights Commission will launch its Human Rights Inquiry Report into Emergency Healthcare on 27 May 2015.

Public participation was at the heart of the focus of the Inquiry and we would like to thank all the patients, family members, health care staff and representatives who contributed to the Inquiry process.

The report will present key findings and recommendations from the Inquiry and will identify the extent to which the human rights of people seeking Emergency Care in Northern Ireland are respected, protected and fulfilled.

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org or 02890243987.

Notes to Editors

1. The Report will be launched at Stormont Hotel on Wednesday 27 May from 10-11.30am. All media are welcome to attend. To register your attendance please contact Claire Martin at Claire.Martin@nihrc.org or on 02890243987.

2. The Commission initiated a Human Rights Inquiry into Emergency Healthcare in the summer of 2014. The Commission launched a confidential phone line and held public hearings across N.I from September to December 2014.

2. The Inquiry Panel included NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby, Commissioner Marion Reynolds, and Professor Paul Hunt, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

3. Watch the Panel speak about the Inquiry in this short clip

4. You can watch all the public hearings again here

5. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


08 May 2015

NI Businesses Invited to Join New Human Rights Initiative

Home » News

30 April 2015

Businesses in Northern Ireland are invited to join a new forum on developing a Business and Human Rights initiative.

Led by businesses for businesses and supported by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the forum will provide an open space for discussion about opportunities and challenges in this area. Companies of all sizes and across all sectors are welcome to join.

Have your say in the development of UK-wide policy, such as the National Action Plan on business and human rights

• Have the chance to influence local policy through collaboration with NI Civil Service Departments

•Contribute to the development of guidance and practical tools for businesses wishing to embed human rights, including opportunities to showcase good practice

The Forums first meeting will take place on Tuesday 2nd June 2015, from 10am-1pm, at Board Room, Clare House 303 Airport Road West, Belfast.

BT3 9ED

Register:

For further details or to register please contact Kellie Turtle at kellie.turtle@nihrc.org or 02890 269771.


30 Apr 2015

Commission Welcomes Publication of Revised Care Standards for Nursing Homes

Home » News

15 April 2015

The Human Rights Commission has welcomed publication by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety of revised Care Standards for Nursing Homes in Northern Ireland. The revised standards set out the minimum requirements for service providers and are intended to improve the quality of care for people living in nursing homes.

Following on from its investigation into nursing homes the Commission also worked to evaluate the standards prior to their consultation. This role has been recognised as valuable by the Department.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“We welcome that the explicit and underpinning principle of the Standards includes the protection and promotion of people’s human rights. We hope that new standards on “quality of life” and “privacy, dignity and personal care” will help address concerns highlighted through our own 2012 investigation. These included the need to improve social interactions, everyday activity and respect for choice, independence and dignity, particularly in the provision of intimate personal care for residents living in nursing homes. The Commission also commends the participatory approach adopted by the Department in developing the revised standards whereby older people’s views were actively sought and included in the process”.

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org, (028) 9024 3987 (office)

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.

2. The Department of Health and Social Services has published Revised Care Standards for Nursing Homes. The standards document can be found on the Department’s website at: http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/index/phealth/sqs/sqsd-standards/sqsd-standards-care-standards.htm

3. The Commission published its investigation report into the human rights of older people in nursing homes in 2012. “In Defence of Dignity,” recommendation 3, recommended that the Nursing Homes Minimum Standards integrate human rights standards. The full report can be accessed here: http://www.nihrc.org/uploads/publications/in-defence-of-dignity-investigation-report-March-2012.pdf

4. The Commission’s response to the DHSSPS ‘Review of Minimum Standards for Nursing Homes’ is available here: http://www.nihrc.org//Publication/detail/response-to-the-dhssps-review-of-minimum-standards-for-nursing-homes


15 Apr 2015

Roundtable with Institute for Fiscal Studies

Home » News

27 March 2015

The Human Rights Commission is today facilitating a roundtable discussion on social security reforms in Northern Ireland.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby commented:

“The purpose of today is to examine social security reforms in light of the Stormont House Agreement proposals and to take stock of the current situation. The Commission has identified protecting human rights in a time of austerity as an ongoing priority. In carrying out this work, we continue to monitor Governments compliance with protecting the right to an adequate standard of living.”

The roundtable includes a presentation from David Phillips, Senior Research Economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies who specialises in financial devolution issues. David will provide an overview of tax, social security reforms and the impact to date on Northern Ireland, compared with the impact elsewhere in the UK. The presentation will also look at:

• the income distributional impact of the social security changes to date and those proposed based on what is currently in the public domain

• the trade-off between social security flexibilities proposed and other expenditure

• the wider fiscal context in terms of UK political parties known plans for tax and social security

• and a discussion on the mitigation measures proposed in the Stormont House Agreement.

Today’s attendees include a mix of senior civil servants, academics, advice NGOs and charities working with people in poverty.

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin at claire.martin@nihrc.org or on 02890243987.

Notes to editors:

1. The Commission’s current Strategic Priorities include Protecting Human Rights in a Time of Austerity. Through this priority the Commission has made a commitment to closely monitor the State’s compliance with its socio-economic duties, including that of ensuring an adequate standard of living. View the Commission’s current Strategic Plan.

2. Stakeholders have been invited to a Chatham House Rule Roundtable on Social Security Reforms on Tuesday 26 March 2015 at the Commission offices in Belfast.

3. Find out more about the Institute for Fiscal Studies. You can also access David’s presentation here.


27 Mar 2015

28th ICC meeting at the United Nations

Home » News

​16 March 2015

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission attended the 28th International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC) meeting. It took place from 11-13 March 2015 at the United Nations in Geneva.

Chief Commissioner Les Allamby joined the panel on National Inquiries by National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI’s). He presented progress to date on the Commission’s live Inquiry into Accident and Emergency Care in Northern Ireland.

The Commission also participated in the European Network of NHRI’s side event on A Human Rights Based Approach to the work of the Ombudsman.

Further Information:

  1. For further information please contact Claire Martin at Claire.Martin@nihrc.org or on 02890 243987.
  2. The NIHRC is a national human rights institution with A status accreditation from the United Nations (UN)
  3. The International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions (ICC) is the international association of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) from all parts of the globe. Established in 1993, the ICC promotes and strengthens NHRIs to be in accordance with the Paris Principles, and provides leadership in the promotion and protection of human rights.

16 Mar 2015

Commission Visits Magherafelt

Home » News

Magerafelt hosted Commissioners and staff of the Human Rights Commission during their recent visit to the town. The visit was part of the organisations on-going programme of community visits across Northern Ireland.

The Commission spent the day meeting with organisations and community groups – including the Living & Learning Together Project, STEP Migrant Support as well as local representatives of the District Council and the PSNI.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said:

“We would like to thank all of those who took the time to meet with Commissioners and staff in Magherafelt. The meetings provided an invaluable opportunity for us to connect with local communities and to hear what human rights issues are most pressing to them. The Commission will continue to factor in the information we receive on community visits into our ongoing programme of work in 2015.”

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org, (028) 9024 3987 (office).

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


27 Feb 2015

NIHRC Advises on Freedom of Conscience Proposals

Home » News

27 February 2015

The Human Rights Commission has provided advice on the proposed Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill. It is the Commission’s role to review the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice in Northern Ireland relating to the protection of Human Rights.

On the underpinning principles of the Bill

The Commission advises that the underlying premise of the proposed Bill, which is that freedom to manifest one’s religion is undermined by the protection of individuals from discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, is unfounded. This matter has been given substantial consideration by domestic courts on a number of occasions. In addition, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that in general the UK legislative framework strikes a balance operating the margin of appreciation allowed within the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

On the proposed exception for a voluntary adoption agency or fostering agency

The Commission advises that in carrying out a function that is of public nature, a voluntary agency providing an adoption or fostering service is a public authority in accordance with the Human Rights Act. It is unlawful for a voluntary agency to act in a way which is incompatible with the ECHR. The proposed exception for a voluntary adoption agency or fostering agency is in the Commission’s view incompatible with the ECHR, Article 8 read together with Article 14.

In accordance with the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Northern Ireland Assembly cannot enact laws that are incompatible with any of the ECHR rights. This being the case, the proposed Bill, in the Commission’s view, is outside the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

On the proposals regarding Businesses: exception based on religious belief

The Commission advises that the proposed clause is retrogressive and will undermine a fundamental principle of human rights. It would lead to a restriction on access to goods, facilities and services by private companies that in practice would be applied against one community or one protected group. We advise that the manifestation of a religious belief that involves discrimination against a protected group does not have the protection of human rights law.

Read the Commission’s full submission


27 Feb 2015

Human Rights Commission visits Carrickfergus

Home » News

February 2015

The human rights concerns of the people living in Carrickfergus Borough Council were examined when the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission visited the town recently.

Commissioners and staff spent the day meeting with organisations and community groups – including Women’s Aid, Ulidia Integrated College, Carrickfergus Community Forum, Carrickfergus Borough Council and the PSNI – to learn about local human rights issues and concerns.

The visit was part of the NIHRC’s on-going programme of community visits across Northern Ireland.

NIHRC Chief Commissioner Les Allamby said:

“We’re very grateful to the people and organisations in Carrickfergus who met with us and gave us a chance to hear first-hand what human rights issues are facing local groups and individuals. The Commission will continue to factor in the information we receive on community visits into our ongoing programme of work in 2015.”

ENDS

Further information:

For further information please contact Claire Martin on: claire.martin@nihrc.org, (028) 9024 3987 (office).

Notes to editors

1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.


08 Feb 2015

Human Rights Commission Welcomes Courts Decision to Review Termination of Pregnancy Law

Home » News

2 February 2015

The Human Rights Commission is pleased that its application for a judicial review has been granted today. We are seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest. We believe the law as it stands violates human rights.

Given the vulnerability of women and girls in these situations, we consider it of public importance to bring this case. The full Court hearing date has now been fixed for 15 June 2015.

For further information please contact: Claire Martin on 07717731873 Claire.Martin@nihrc.org

Notes to Editors

1. The Human Rights Commission applied for leave to judicially review the law on termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland at the High Court on Monday 2nd February 2015.

2. Judicial Review Application: At an application for leave hearing both sides present their cases as to why the case should or should not proceed to a full hearing. The judge will determine at this application stage if the case will proceed to a full hearing. The judge may also grant permission for third parties to intervene at this stage.

3. A fact sheet setting out some Frequently Asked Questions about the case is available here.

4. The Commission is seeking a change in the law so that women and girls in Northern Ireland have the choice of accessing a termination of pregnancy in circumstances of serious malformation of the foetus, rape or incest.

5. Termination of pregnancy is currently available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent.

6. The Commission issued legal proceedings against the Department of Justice in December 2014. Since November 2013 the Commission have repeatedly advised the Department of Justice (DOJ) that the existing law is, in the Commission’s view, a violation of human rights.

7. In forming this view on access to termination of pregnancy services the Commission has considered the full range of internationally accepted human rights standards, including the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the treaty obligations of the Council of Europe and the United Nations systems.

8. The legal case is that Articles 3,8,and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights are directly engaged:

Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Prohibits torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. There are no exceptions or limitations on this right.

Article 8: Right to privacy

(1) Everyone has the right for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2) There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Article 14: Discrimination

The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

9. The Commission is a statutory public body established in 1999 to promote and protect human rights. In accordance with section 69(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the Commission reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of law and practice relating to the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland.


02 Feb 2015

UK Supreme Court to hear Commission’s Appeal on N.I Termination of Pregnancy Laws

Home » News

DATES: The Case is listed for hearing on Tuesday 24 October, Wednesday 25 October and Thursday 26 October.

FOR INTERVIEW REQUESTS: CONTACT CLAIRE MARTIN ON 07717731873

INTERVIEWS AVAILABLE WITH: LES ALLAMBY, CHIEF COMMISSIONER OF THE NORTHERN IRELAND HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION.

KEY FACTS:

• From 2013 the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has continued to seek a change to the law to allow termination of pregnancies in Northern Ireland in cases of serious malformation of the foetus or pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.

• Recognising how difficult it would be for a woman or girl to challenge the law in the circumstances covered by the case the Commission took the case in its own name.

• In the Commission’s view the existing law in Northern Ireland violates the human rights of women and girls.

• Termination of pregnancy is only available in Northern Ireland if it is necessary to preserve the life of a woman; including where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The punishment is life imprisonment for anyone who unlawfully procures or performs a termination.

LOCATION: UK Supreme Court Parliament Square London SW1P 3BD

LIVE STREAMING: The hearing will be held in Court Room 1. A live video feed will be available on the day at: https://www.supremecourt.uk/live/court-01.html

PARTIES IN THE APPEAL

Appellants: Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

Judgment appealed [2017] NICA 42

Respondent(s)

  1. Northern Ireland Department of Justice
  2. Attorney General for Northern Ireland

Justices who will hear the Appeal
Lady Hale, Lord Mance, Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson, Lord Reed, Lady Black, Lord Lloyd-Jones. Biographies available here

Interveners

  1. United Nations Human Rights Council, Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice;
  2. Humanists UK;
  3. ADF International, Christian Action, Research and Education & Professor Patricia Casey;
  4. Amnesty International & Sarah Ewart;
  5. Centre for Reproductive Rights;
  6. Family Planning Association, British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Abortion Support Network, Birthrights, Royal College of Midwives, Alliance for Choice & Antenatal Results and Choices;
  7. JR76;
  8. Northern Bishops;
  9. Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

Issues before the Court:

(i) Does the current law in Northern Ireland violate rights?: Whether sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act (NI) 1945 are incompatible with Articles 3 (Freedom from Torture), 8 (Right to Private and family life) and 14 (Non-discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in failing to provide an exception to the prohibition on the termination of pregnancy in Northern Ireland in cases of serious malformation of the unborn child/foetus or pregnancy as a result of rape or incest.

(ii) Does the Commission have the right to take the case in its own name without a victim?: whether the Northern Ireland Act 1998 entitles the Commission to bring proceedings under the Human Rights Act 1998 (‘HRA’), and to seek a Declaration of Incompatibility under section 4 HRA, other than in respect of an identified unlawful act or acts.

Timeline:

From November 2013 the Commission had repeatedly advised the Department of Justice Northern Ireland that the existing law violates the human rights of women and girls.

In October 2014 the Department of Justice published a public consultation on proposals to amend the criminal law on abortion to allow for termination of pregnancy in cases of lethal foetal abnormality and sought views on sexual crime.

In December 2014 the Commission initiated legal proceedings against the Department of Justice as a last resort. In the Commission’s view, the consultation published by the Department did not commit to making the changes that were necessary in law: the consultation addressed cases of lethal foetal abnormality and did not deal with serious malformation of foetus. The consultation sought public opinion on cases of sexual crime including rape and incest without putting forward proposals to change the law.

In April 2015 the Department of Justice published its summary of responses to the consultation and announced its intention to bring forward proposals to change the law covering fatal foetal abnormality only. However, the issue never reached NI Executive agenda.

15-17 June 2015 the Commission’s Judicial Review of the law on termination of pregnancy was heard at the High Court. Judgment was reserved at the close of proceedings on 17 June.

30 November 2015 the High Court found in the Commission’s favour ruling that the current law in Northern Ireland is incompatible with human rights based on the breach of Article 8 of the ECHR This was based on the law prohibiting termination of pregnancy in the cases of fatal foetal abnormalities and sexual crime being a violation of women’s right to personal autonomy under Article 8 of the ECHR. As a result the law was not compatible with human rights on that basis. The High Court did not hold that the law on termination was contrary to either Article 3 or Article 14 of the ECHR.

16 December 2015 the High Court granted a Declaration of Incompatibility under the HRA 1998.

January 2016 The Attorney General and the Department of Justice both appealed the ruling of the High Court. The Commission cross-appealed and re-introduced all of the original grounds it brought before the High Court in 2015.

20-24 June 2016 the Commission’s legal challenge to Northern Ireland’s termination of pregnancy laws was heard at the Court of Appeal in Belfast.

February 2017 the Attorney General challenged the powers of the Commission to take this case by referring a number of devolution questions to the Supreme Court.

29 June 2017 the Court of Appeal in Belfast dismisses the Commission’s appeal. The Court of Appeal held that the issue of any changes to the law on termination should be left to the NI Assembly.

3 July 2017 the Court of Appeal in Belfast gave the Commission leave to the appeal to the Supreme Court in London.

24-26 October 2017 The Supreme Court in London grants an expedited hearing to run from Tuesday 24th October to Thursday 26th October, and will be heard by a panel of seven judges.

FAQ:

Why did the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission take the case in its own name?

Given the significance of the case and the sensitive issues involved, the Commission took the case in its own name, recognising how difficult it would be for a woman to challenge the law in the circumstances covered by the case. This decision was made to protect women or girls, in situations of rape, incest or with a diagnosis of a serious foetal abnormality, from having to take the case on an individual basis.

How can the Human Rights Commission take cases in its own name?

The Commission is able to initiate proceedings in its own name through powers set out in Justice and Security Act (NI) 2007. These amended the Commission’s powers to permit the Commission to initiate legal action without there having to be a victim.

Has the Commission taken a case in its own name before?

Yes, in the High Court in 2012 and the Court of Appeal in 2013 the Commission successfully challenged the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987, in its own name, on the grounds that it was discriminatory. This means that unmarried couples (same sex and opposite sex) and civil partners can now apply to adopt a child in Northern Ireland. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal upheld the right of the Commission to take this case in its own name.

Has the Northern Ireland Assembly considered the issue of termination of pregnancy?

Yes, in February 2016, NI Assembly members voted 59 to 40 against amending legislation to a Justice Bill to allow terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality. Assembly Members also voted, by 64 votes to 32, against an amendment legalising abortion in cases of rape, incest or indecent assault. At the end of 2016, the former Minister for Justice, David Ford, introduced a private member’s bill to make abortion lawful on the grounds of fatal foetal abnormality. As a consequence of the Northern Ireland Assembly being dissolved in early 2017, the Bill fell.

Has the United Nations made any reference to Northern Irelands Termination of Pregnancy laws?

Yes, Human Rights Law has developed alongside the Commission’s case and the Commission has updated the Court of these developments.

On 21 July 2015 the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued its concluding observations on the UK recommending Northern Ireland amends its legislation on abortion to allow exceptions in cases of rape, incest and foetal abnormality.

On 9 June 2016 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued its report on the United Kingdom. The Committee has called on the UK Government to: decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland in all circumstances and conduct a review of legislation with a view to ensuring girls’ access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services.

On 14 July 2016 the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights expressed concern in its report on the UK that termination of pregnancy is still criminalised in N.I in all circumstances except when the life of the woman is in danger. The Committee recommended that legislation on termination of pregnancy be amended in Northern Ireland to make it compatible with other fundamental rights such as the women’s right to health, life and dignity.


17 Oct 2017