EHRC issues guidance on human rights for public sector

Online human rights guidance aims to bring more clarity and support for public sector organisations in England and Wales

Online human rights guidance launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission aims to bring more clarity and support for public sector organisations in England and Wales.

The guidance, which was produced in conjunction with the human rights and social justice research institute at London Metropolitan University, covers nine areas in England and Wales: adult social care, children’s services, health, housing, education services, local government, criminal justice, courts and prisons, policing and immigration and asylum.

The EHRC said that as well as helping organisations that carry out public functions and advocacy with “tried and tested examples of how to consider human rights in public service delivery”, organisations will also have access to case studies, inspection standards and impact assessments.

The guidance also includes information about the rights of particular groups including the elderly and the disabled.

“For example, it points out with regard to adult social care that public authorities can infringe human rights when they are excessively risk averse as well as when they fail to avoid risk,” the EHRC said.

The document also includes nine “common and recurring themes that will be applicable to everyone”. These include:

Positive obligations

The Human Rights Act means that all public authorities have an obligation to ensure that people’s rights are respected in all that they do. [It] is not just about preventing public authorities from taking certain actions. It also requires them to take proactive steps to prevent breaches of human rights from happening in the first place.

Human rights as an aid to decision making

Human rights can establish a set of shared standards that apply to all. This can be of particular value in underpinning a range of policy and practice developments, and in safeguarding vital services, particularly for the most vulnerable groups. Human rights principles can strengthen decision-making at both corporate and service levels and help to prevent service failure.


The principle of proportionality is at the heart of a human rights framework … Proportionality is an important mechanism for ensuring that the infringement of rights is kept to a minimum and is always reasonable and balancing competing interests, for example the rights of individuals with those of service users, staff or the wider community.

Improving the quality of public services

Human rights can be used – both by staff and service users – to challenge outmoded practices or services, which are designed around the needs of service providers rather than users. Embedding human rights principles can have benefits in terms of staff morale and enthusiasm – reconnecting staff with core public service values.

Building a human rights culture

The promotion of human rights awareness within public services is vital not only to facilitate the development of a tangible human rights culture within the services, but also to demonstrate commitment to human rights in dealing with the public. Leadership, senior level commitment and engagement, and effective training in human rights principles and practice are fundamental to any organisation committed to compliance with the Human Rights Act.