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The Audit Commission Report on Human Rights

What does the government have to say about “human rights”: the collective term for its concerns about civil liberties and the rights of the individual. The answer can be found in three departments: the Human Rights Department in the Lord Chancellor’s Officeand the Human Rights Policy Department at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The administrative distinction between these two departments lies in their location: the former is dedicated to the implementation in law of the European Charter on Human Rights and the latter is focused upon human rights as a strand within British foreign policy.

The latest Audit Committee Report on the implementation of the Human Rights Act for managers within local government is a good place to start examining how the law has become a byword for bureaucratisation and regulation. It also has a useful list of further governmental links. Although the traditional freedoms are all recognised in checklists and tickboxes, they are surrounded by a disciplinary atmosphere that has the potential to prohibit any actions considered offensive. Instead of applying common sense and guidance, this Report promotes a stifling conformity in the form of a “human rights culture” in order to avoid liabilities for not applying the law correctly.

By viewing human rights as a possible liability, institutions and the individuals who work within them will come to see civil liberties as a liability and a hindrance to their primary objective. Thus, the Human Rights Act will have the opposite effect to that intended: engendering a culture of compliance that observes the letter, not the spirit of the law, and bringing the actual purpose of the act, increasing the rights of individuals, into contempt.

1 comment to The Audit Commission Report on Human Rights

  • Guy Herbert

    The conflict is deeper than that. The term “human rights” doesn’t encompass civil liberties. It betokens a culture that doesn’t recognise liberty at all. Human rights are conferred by the state and subject always to limits and balances (usually “as necessary in a democratic society” for an open ended set of state purposes). There’s no presupposition in these Departments of State that individuals ought to be free to do what they like unless there’s a good reason to stop them. Their promotion of human rights is a positive programme towards social ends.