AJC responds to the Joint Committee Inquiry into the creation of a Human Rights Ombudsperson

JUSTICE and the Administrative Justice Council (AJC) have responded to the Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into whether a Human Rights Ombudsperson should be created.

In May 2022, the Joint Committee on Human Rights launched an inquiry into whether a Human Rights Ombudsperson should be created, to improve how people could enforce their rights out of court. The inquiry is to cover whether such a body should be created, the powers of this body, how it would interact with other bodies and the devolved nations, and what other steps could be introduced to ensure people can effectively enforce their rights out of court.

Whilst we were supportive of the need to strengthen the enforcement of human rights other than by court action, and understood the appeal of a Human Rights Ombudsperson, we had practical misgivings about whether this was the best way to support human rights culture in ombudsperson services. This was for a couple of reasons:

  1. That it would create confusion for the public. There is already a multitude of different ombudspersons in the UK covering a variety of different areas. JUSTICE has previously been supportive of the argument for simplification of ombudsperson services and the creation of a single Public Services Ombudsman for England. The AJC are also in favour of a more efficient, user-friendly and streamlined complaints procedure. We had concerns that a complainant would not necessarily know which ombudsperson service was best to approach with their complaint or that it would create unnecessary confusion if two different complaints went ahead simultaneously.
  2. That it would undermine a human-rights based approach to existing ombudsperson services. We felt that there was a risk that it would undermine work that urgently needs to be prioritised to create a ‘human rights-based approach’ to existing ombudsperson services. This work has already started, for example in Northern Ireland and Wales. Creating a human-rights based approach to ombudsperson services requires urgent attention in the UK. We are concerned that a Human Rights Ombudsperson would distract from this work and send the wrong signal to existing ombudsperson schemes that they should not make human rights considerations.

You can read our submissions here.