Northern Ireland
Human Rights Commission takes Minister to court


HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION GRANTED LEAVE IN CASE AGAINST THE SECRETARY OF STATE
Press release: WEDNESDAY 7 JULY 2004

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission was today granted leave to take judicial review proceedings against the Secretary of State, challenging the decision of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) to refuse the Commission access to Rathgael Juvenile Justice Centre.

In March 2002 the Commission published research entitled In Our Care, reviewing the conditions under which children and young people are detained in the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland. The report contained some 170 recommendations aimed at transforming the care of children in custody. Since last year, the Commission has attempted to secure permission to visit Rathgael to carry out research on how those recommendations have been implemented. The NIO has refused the Commission access, claiming it has no right of access under its powers and that other, more appropriate bodies have the responsibility to inspect Rathgael.

Today, Lord Justice Weatherup granted leave for the Commission to judicially review the Secretary of State based on two key points: firstly, that the Commission has a legitimate expectation of cooperation from the Government given its previous commitment to cooperation, clearly stated to Parliament and, secondly, that the NIO has wrongly assumed that the Commission’s powers in this case may only be exercised where no other statutory provisions exist for the type of work proposed by the Commission.

Chief Executive, Paddy Sloan said:

“It is very disappointing that we should have to resort to the courts to secure the cooperation of the NIO on this matter. The Secretary of State has been considering a Review of the Commission’s powers since March 2001, without any definitive response. It is quite unacceptable that despite Parliamentary assertion of full cooperation, a simple follow-up exercise such as is proposed should be blocked by the NIO. The Commission has a supportive, not inspectorate role and is very conscious of its responsibility to protect and promote the human rights of the children and young people who are currently held in custody.”

Notes to Editors:

1. In Our Care: Promoting the Rights of Children in Custody, by Dr Ursula Kilkelly, Una Convery and Dr Linda Moore, was published by the Commission in March 2002.

2. The report contained 170 recommendations covering 9 main areas: children’s rights; right to liberty; induction, assessment and planning; re-habilitation and re-integration; protection; care and control; health and health-care; private and family life; education and recreation.

3. In an undertaking given to Parliament by the then Home Office Minister, Lord Williams of Mostyn, on 21 October 1998, he said, “ ..the Government will fully cooperate with any investigation undertaken by the Commission…”

4. For further information, contact Paddy Sloan, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, at 9024 3987 or 07967 148537.

Brenda Madden, Administrative Officer, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Temple Court, 39 North Street, Belfast, BT1 1NA
Tel: 028 90243987 Fax: 028 90247844 Web: www.nihrc.org


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