Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb a Chyfiawnder Cymdeithasol

Equality and Social Justice Committee

01/11/2021

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Altaf Hussain MS
Jane Dodds MS
Jenny Rathbone MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Ken Skates MS
Sarah Murphy MS
Sioned Williams MS

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Dr Sarah Nason Prifysgol Bangor
Bangor University
Professor Simon Hoffman Prifysgol Abertawe
Swansea University

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Alun Davidson Clerc
Clerk
Claire Fiddes Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Gareth Howells Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Sam Mason Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser
Yan Thomas Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 13:30.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 13:30. 

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

I'd like to welcome Members and members of the public to the meeting of the Equality and Social Justice Committee. This meeting is being broadcast live on Senedd.tv. This is a bilingual meeting, and simultaneous translation from Welsh to English is being made simultaneously available. I haven't received any apologies for this meeting, and could I just ask Members if they've got any declarations of interest to make? I'll take that as a no. If, for any reason, I drop out of this virtual meeting, I propose that Sarah Murphy will temporarily chair the meeting while I try to rejoin.

2. Cryfhau a hyrwyddo cydraddoldeb a hawliau dynol yng Nghymru
2. Strengthening and advancing equality and human rights in Wales

The first item on our agenda today is taking evidence from Professor Simon Hoffman and Dr Sarah Nason on the report that they have done on how we can strengthen and advance equality and human rights in Wales, and they're going to be speaking about the report they've prepared for the Welsh Government.

Professor Simon Hoffman, for the record, would you just like to, both, introduce yourselves?

Hello. My name is Professor Simon Hoffman, and I work at Swansea University, researching human rights and equality.

Hello. I'm Dr Sarah Nason, I work at Bangor University, and I research equality, human rights and, in particular, justice and administrative justice systems.

Thank you. Thank you very much for sparing the time today to come and talk about your report.

In this report, you recommend that the Welsh Government should introduce primary legislation on a human rights Act for Wales. Why do you think such legislation is necessary rather than pursuing human rights by other means?

Okay. Well, first of all, thank you very much for the opportunity to come and speak about our report. On human rights incorporation, in effect, and a human rights Act for Wales, we took the view that whilst Wales has taken a number of progressive steps in relation to human rights, but also equality, the developments that have emerged have been piecemeal, and the research found that whilst there are strong connections between equality and human rights, in the framework, for example, of international—[Inaudible.]—law, as well as between human rights and well-being, those connections are not clearly reflected in the law and policy framework in Wales. The evidence that we took from stakeholders in particular suggests that this gives rise to a degree of uncertainty and lack of clarity about priorities for public policy at different levels in Wales, and responsibilities under the current legislative framework. There were concerns especially about leadership, setting objectives and how these are carried through into action.

We looked very carefully at the current framework in Wales, and also at the international framework and the literature arising in relation to human rights and equality generally, and we felt that there’s a real opportunity in Wales to make connections in public policy between human rights, equality and well-being, where Wales has been particularly innovative. We took the view that the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, with its focus on sustainable development, is a real opportunity to make connections between equality and human rights in the legislative framework, and that socioeconomic rights in particular establish outcome targets for public policy and action on equality and well-being. And there's a clear link at the international level between equality and human rights and dealing with chronic social issues, such as poverty, for example, in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which, of course, is key to the well-being of future generations legislation and well-being in Wales. Essentially, our sense, from the evidence and from the literature, is that public policy needs to be more directive in terms of outcomes, processes and actions, and that the way to do that—and this was clearly emerging from the evidence with stakeholders—was through a greater specification in the legal framework. That's the reason. I can go on and talk about the method in due course, but I wonder if my colleague Sarah's got anything to add at this stage.

13:35

Thank you. I think I would just reiterate the different legislation that already exists, the various different pieces of legislation and guidance in Wales. Strongly from the evidence, it was coming out that one single piece of legislation to bring all those things together would be very beneficial from the perspective of understanding the legal duties that already exist as well. So, it's that sense of greater clarification of what's already there within the legislation, and that perhaps that could also be part of the process of consolidation and codification that's going through the Senedd as well.

As well, I suppose I would say—and this is something we might come on to when we talk a bit more about accountability and enforcement—that my research is in administrative justice. So, administrative justice is quite an unusual term and people might not be aware of it. It's the justice of public body decision making, and that includes the procedures for first instance decision making, and that includes the redress mechanisms, which can include complaints, bureaucratic administrative review by public bodies themselves, commissioners, ombudsmen, up to courts and tribunals. I think what we would say is that there already is quite a progressive system of institutions in Wales for holding public bodies to account, but the evidence from our stakeholders was very much that there should be a stronger form of legal accountability, and that it's through the legislation that we recommend that can be developed.

Very good. I'm struggling slightly as to how this legislation would actually make things better for people with protected characteristics, because what they want are nice warm homes, and therefore we need to do legislation to ensure that happens. So, it's really whether this approach is going to make a profound difference to the individuals that we all want to see protected, given that most members of the public aren't particularly familiar with what the law says at the moment. So, how do you weigh that up, given that there's a huge legislative backlog already as a result of COVID? Simon.

Yes, I think one of the things that we need to emphasise at the very outset is—I'm sure you'll be conscious of this—the fact that our recommendations on incorporation and the legislative framework sit alongside all the other recommendations that we've made in the report. So, if it was just a case of incorporation of the human rights Act Wales, we'd say, 'Very probably, it's not going to make a great deal of difference.' But it comes, from our perspective at least, as part of a package of recommendations that will build on each other; they're mutually complementary. And it's about providing a route-map, if you like, to stronger recognition of equality objectives for those with protected characteristics and human rights objectives.

I have to say as well, I think, in the current legislation and guidance, what we've found is that there is a good deal of reference and cross-reference between, for example, guidance in relation to equality and well-being to human rights, but that reference tends to articulate human rights at a rather abstract level, rather than articulating particular objectives, such as the right to adequate housing, for example, or the right to the highest attainable standard of health. There's simply a reference to human rights principles. Our sense from the evidence is that people want to see  stronger priority setting, for the Welsh Government to say through legislation, approved by the Senedd, 'These are the priorities for, for example, children'—as it has done in the past—'women, people from ethnic minorities, disabled people, older people. These are the priorities and this is where you will find the priorities.' Ultimately, coming through leadership on legislation. But I have to emphasise we don't see this as incorporation alone; it's more than that.

13:40

Okay, thank you. Sarah, is there anything further you wanted to add to that?

Yes, please, if I may. I think, just to echo what Simon said, it's a road map of related recommendations, but one of the major issues is awareness of the rights that people already have under existing Welsh legislation and UK-wide legislation, but also enabling people to effectively enforce those rights and to hold public bodies accountable. So, questions around access to advice and assistance, particularly legal advice and assistance, are really, really important parts of this picture as well.

Thank you very much for that. Altaf Hussain wants to come in at this point with some questions. Altaf.

There we go. I was wondering, really, you recommended that a human rights taskforce should be established to examine options and bring forward detailed proposals for the incorporation of human rights in Wales, and that the taskforce should complete its work so that the legislation could be introduced and enacted before the dissolution of the Senedd. Now, is this a realistic ambition and what would be the key dates for this? Obviously, there will be milestones that would need to be achieved. And my question with it was, when you talked to the stakeholders, was it pre epidemic or post epidemic? You did it in 2019. Was it before the epidemic or was there any effect of the epidemic on your research, when you talked to these stakeholders?

Thank you for those questions. If I deal with the last of them first, we certainly were conscious of the pandemic. The research actually commenced in January 2020 and, in fact, the research was interrupted quite significantly by the onset of the pandemic and lockdown, one of the impacts being we had to move all the field work online. Certainly, we were very conscious of the pandemic and, in fact, we very quickly included within the research a number of questions on COVID-19 to get people's views on the impact of the pandemic on equality and human rights. There is a section on that; it's the final section in our report. I could talk a bit more about that later.

But just in terms of is it a realistic ambition, well, certainly, if you look at Scotland, Scotland set up a taskforce to advise on the incorporation of international human rights in Scots law and for the taskforce to report, and to report to enable Scotland to introduce legislation. It certainly turned the work around pretty quickly. I think, for me, it's not a question of whether the work can be completed in time, it's when does the taskforce actually start its work. This report was published in September, and I suppose the longer that we go without the taskforce, the less likely it is that it can complete its work and the legislation can be brought forward before the dissolution of this Senedd. So, from my perspective, it's a matter of some urgency that the Welsh Government should decide whether or not it accepts that recommendation, and if it does accept that recommendation, to go on and establish the taskforce as a matter of urgency.

Great, thank you very much. Before going to Sarah, since you touched on Scotland, what specific gaps in legislation or in performance has Scotland identified that led to its conclusion that a new framework is needed? Do we know those gaps and how we address those?

13:45

Sarah, would you like me to respond?

I think in Scotland there was recognition that the Human Rights Act 1998, which applies to the whole of the UK, although a very welcome piece of legislation, does not give full coverage for human rights. And, in particular, it doesn't give full coverage for socioeconomic rights. And, of course, that's highly relevant both in Wales and Scotland because devolved powers, if anything, they extend to areas covered by socioeconomic rights—healthcare, education and social care, for example. So, there's a recognition I think—and I'm talking as an outsider, in simply looking on and reading the documents that have been published by the taskforce but also by the Scottish Government—there was a recognition that Scotland wanted to do more to promote and protect human rights generally, beyond the civil and political rights that are protected by the Human Rights Act in Scotland. And, interestingly, the work in Scotland actually resulted in not just some recommendations regarding incorporation of existing international human rights, but looking at the options for additional bespoke rights in relation to Scotland and the environment, for example. I see the taskforce as a real opportunity in Wales to look at what do we want from human rights, how are we going to do them, and, in effect, setting up a taskforce to make human rights bespoke to Wales to meet the needs of Wales. 

Thank you, Professor. I don't know—Sarah, do you want to add anything?

I suppose that the only other point I would make, and it's something that we might come on to, is that the taskforce can also look at the exact way that these rights would be incorporated and the exact way they would be presented in legislation, which could also include the exact mechanisms of accountability. And again, in that sense, Wales doesn't necessarily need to do what has been done in other countries in terms of the way that public bodies are to be held to account for human rights as well. And that process of access to justice can be thought about as part of that activity. 

Thank you. Sorry, I'm having a moment with my computer. Are we—? Sorry, Chair. I was covering section 5—are we on section 5?

I beg your pardon. Sorry, I've shot ahead. Ken, do you want to come in on the role of monitoring and how that makes us accountable or not accountable?

Yes, thank you, Chair. So, the Welsh Government's in the process of scoping the development of a statistical unit, a race disparities unit or an equalities statistics unit. To what extent do you think that unit and its establishment could address the issues that you raise in the report about the availability of data? In the report, you refer to the EHRC's measurement framework, and there are concerns about a lack of data for Wales and gaps in the data. Do you think that that unit that Welsh Government is in the process of scoping out could address the concerns that you highlight? 

I think so, amongst others. I think one of the things that comes clearly from the evidence is that there are different ways to obtain the data. The important point, I suppose, is not necessarily what are the sources of data but what data needs to be collated and what are the existing sources. And if the existing sources do not gather the data that is needed, then additional sources need to be established. And if the unit that you're speaking about is going to add to the data that will help reflection on how Wales is making progress in relation to equality objectives and human rights objectives, then I see it as an opportunity. I think for me, though, the important point would be, here, is the Welsh Government going to look at human rights, use human rights, to establish objectives in relation to different policy areas? And then to ask the question: what sources of data do we need—quantitative and qualitative, importantly—so, what data do we need for people with lived experience? And do we have the mechanisms in place in order to acquire that data? And I think our report was saying that the indicators that we presently have are not adequate to reflect equality objectives, and more so—or maybe less so—human rights objectives. So, anything that adds to the opportunities to gather data would be great, but it has to work from what data do we actually need to help us make assessments and review progress against particular indicators. 

13:50

And have you submitted any kind of observations, any thoughts, to the Welsh Government as part of the scoping exercise, or would you consider doing so?

I haven't, because I've been working on other research, but certainly would consider doing so, and would probably consider doing so through networks that I'm currently involved with, so I can input in that way, but certainly I'll be thinking about that now.

Grand, thank you. And also, in terms of accountability, your report recommends that steps should be taken to strengthen accountability for equality and human rights, but that that should be done through strengthening existing avenues, rather than establishing new bodies. How do you believe the Welsh Government could and should strengthen accountability?

Okay, I'll hand over to Sarah in a moment, because she's the real expert on this, but the one thing I would say about this is that, in terms of strengthening the accountability framework, go back to our first recommendation, which is incorporation, and incorporation in a manner that makes human rights directly enforceable. And that was a clear sense that was emerging from the evidence that the way that human rights are being incorporated, in particular in relation to children in Wales, is seen as having a lot of benefits—the due-regard approach, indirect incorporation—in that it focuses, if you like, upstream—[Inaudible.]—but it doesn't focus particularly well downstream, when people feel their rights may have been violated and they're looking for mechanisms for accountability. So, incorporation is key to enhance strengthened accountability. But I'm sure Sarah will have something to say about administrative justice as well on this topic.

Okay, thank you. Yes, I think it ranges across a number of different issues, because, as Simon said, I think the evidence from the stakeholders was for stronger direct legal accountability, and then not just actually having those duties in legislation, but then ensuring that they are actually effective. And so this sits directly within the question of things like legal aid, access to information, advice, support, and advocacy for people to actually effectively exercise the rights that they already have. So, there is very much strong support for more direct legal accountability and the mechanisms to ensure that that is effective. But I think—. From the broader perspective of administrative justice, I think one of the issues that was coming out of the evidence was that we have a lot of bodies in the system in Wales—we have commissioners, we have the ombudsman and we have regulatory bodies as well—and that actually they're all doing excellent work, and they all do work together quite well as well; there are legislative requirements for some of them to work together and memorandums of understanding. And so there is a sense in which all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are there, but it's a question of enabling people to better understand and access those mechanisms. So, if you have a particular concern with a decision made by a public body and how that impacts, perhaps, on your rights or your equality requirements, there are a number of different places you could go to—you could go directly to the body itself, you might be able to go to a commissioner, you might be able to go to the ombudsman or a court and tribunal. And so it's a question, really, around how all those pieces fit together, and making that as clear as possible. And so there are some recommendations around that in some research that was done by Bangor University as well, which we note in our report, and also by the Commission on Justice in Wales—they made some recommendations around how can we have more co-ordination and leadership and organisation in how all those bits of the administrative justice system fit together and work together and leadership, and also thinking about things like alternative dispute resolution and how that fits into this picture as well. 

So, I don't think it's a case of having more institutions or more bodies; it's a case of clarity around their functions and how they fit together, and how people can access them in the best way possible. There are some questions there, perhaps, about resourcing for some of those organisations, and also there's evidence in our report around the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in particular and ensuring that that maintains its distinctive work programme in Wales, and that people are appropriately aware of that, and that the Equality and Human Rights Commission works with the third sector in Wales as well. 

So, all the bits of the jigsaw puzzle are there; it's about them working effectively together and being well connected.

13:55

In your evidence, you point out that there's an implementation gap in what the Welsh Government does, and that's obviously an important point, which you're not alone in making. How do you think that the approach that you're suggesting would actually improve the ability of the citizen to actually hold people to account? Because obviously equality impact assessments are one thing that quite a lot of people who engage with public bodies will quote, but it doesn't necessarily lead to the outcome that they wanted, and they may or may not be using it appropriately anyway. So, how do you think that this improved monitoring, improved accountability, is going to actually change the outcomes?

I think—. My response to that would be that there are lots of recommendations in our report that seek to get upstream in the policy development process to enhance what's already being done—so, enhancing impact assessment, enhancing involvement of people with an interest not only in impact assessment, but also in the work of public services boards, in order, if you like, to avoid the situation where we get downstream and we see implementation of policy, and then we see the gaps start to emerge and people start to look for ways of challenging the impact of policy decision-making on their lives. I think, in many ways, although there's a good deal of support for enhanced accountability through the courts, for example, and there's support for individuals to be able to take action, I want to emphasise that a lot of our recommendations are intended to focus upstream to avoid what is the obvious failure in policy if someone has to bring action in order to enforce their rights. 

So, as I say, a lot of our recommendations are about engaging with people, about ensuring that human rights and equality objectives are first and foremost in the policy development process—in effect, avoiding Ministers and local authorities and others being held accountable through the courts. But, ultimately, of course, the big stick is always there. My reading of the evidence, the international evidence in particular, is that, where you have incorporation of human rights in a manner that could possibly engage the courts, then it certainly focuses attention on achieving processes that lead to better human rights and equality objectives, but also better human rights outcomes, in some cases. 

Okay, very good. I know that Altaf Hussain wants to come in on this point. 

Thank you, Chair. I was delighted to see in your report, page 56, that you included a quote from Chwarae Teg, if I am saying it right, which stated that increasingly impact assessment is being viewed through the lens of the well-being of future generations Act. My question is: does the future generations Act hinder the production of good-quality assessments, missing the basis on which these assessments were introduced in the first place?

14:00

It's difficult for me to comment on that, because we didn't set out to examine that particular issue. I think the approach that we took was to move from the existing framework and ask people what the challenges are, and what the benefits of the existing framework are. And certainly, people highlighted for us the benefits of a well-being approach, but they also highlighted challenges. Certainly, one of the challenges was that there is increasingly seen to be a focus on well-being within Wales, possibly to the detriment of equality and human rights. Now, I'm not commenting on the extent to which that is correct—that is just simply a perception—but one of the opportunities that's offered by, for example, integrated impact assessment is to bring human rights and equality and well-being together in a single policy development tool, and to see them, as they quite rightly should be, as integrated objectives.

I think the challenge that we see with the current integrated impact assessment is it's front loaded, if I can put it that way, from the well-being perspective. There is a children's rights impact assessment in there, there's an equality impact assessment, but there's no human rights impact assessment. And certainly, the fear from the equality stakeholders and the child rights stakeholders is that well-being tends to dominate the assessment, diverting attention away from the equality impact assessment and the children's rights impact assessment. As I say, there is no specific human rights impact assessment within the IIA. I hope that answers your question; it's a rather roundabout way of answering it, I'm afraid.    

Sarah, did you want to add anything on this before we move on? You're content. 

Yes, thank you. 

Fine. Excellent. Sarah Murphy, I know you wanted to come in on the challenges around enforcement. 

Yes, thank you, Chair. You've touched on some of this already when you were talking about advocacy and some of the things that can be done to help people challenge. And you've also said that, ideally, we should avoid people having to take action to even enforce their rights. So, just to drill down into that a little bit more, in your research, on page 121, you found that there are significant gaps in advice services, which you've touched upon, especially in the provision of legal aid-funded advice, and that accountability is reliant on people being able to access advice. What impact does this have on individuals and advancing equality and human rights more generally, and what do you think the Welsh Government and others should do to address these gaps?   

Again, I'm going to rely on Sarah to address this in the main because she's really the expert on this. What I would say is that advice, advocacy and support are absolutely crucial to people having access to their rights and being able to enforce them at whatever level, whether that's engaging with impact assessment, whether that's engaging with complaints mechanisms or whether that's taking action through the court. And we know that the groups that human rights address are usually those groups that are disadvantaged, tend to be excluded from justice mechanisms, so it's absolutely key to them that they have access to advice and advocacy. Otherwise, to be frank, to coin a phrase, human rights mean nothing to them. So, I'll hand over to Sarah on that, if I may.  

Just to reiterate, really, what Simon said about how important this is. It's one of the areas where there was a very clear strength of feeling amongst the stakeholders. There was a very clear majority view, an overwhelming majority view amongst the stakeholders, that we should try and do more to improve access to advice, and particularly to legal aid-funded advice. It was something that was raised in particular—. We worked with Diverse Cymru, who did some engagement sessions, particularly with people who had lived experience and particular characteristics, and it was such a strong consideration coming out from that part of the evidence as well. Obviously, there is lots of other evidence and information about so-called 'advice deserts', and this was being raised by so many of our stakeholders—the challenges of accessing advice in areas like housing and education and community care. So many of those areas that impact on people's daily lives may very well have human rights and equality elements to those.

In terms of what can be done, I think we draw attention in our report to some of the recommendations of the Commission on Justice in Wales, especially those around improving access to things like support through court, in terms of improving digital justice, a digital justice strategy for Wales—all the different ways that we can try and strengthen people's experiences of the justice system and to support people through the justice system. It's the very first recommendation of the Commission on Justice in Wales about funding for legal aid in the third sector and the idea that that should be brought together into a single fund.

It's not something that I would say our research supports one way or the other—whether there should be that single fund—but the sentiment behind that, that Welsh Government should continue to do what it's already doing in terms of—. We know that it provides significant support to the advice sector, we know that there is a strategic approach through the national advice network and the regional advice networks, and these kinds of initiatives of making the money go as far as it possibly can, effectively, and of making the services that we have in Wales as co-ordinated as possible. Whether that should extend to further responsibility over legal aid is not something that our research has a conclusive answer to, but certainly everything that Welsh Government is doing around drawing attention to these issues, drawing attention to the challenges of legal aid, and really bringing together the services that we do have in Wales in a meaningful way, I think, is important work.

I think we also suggest in the report that Welsh Government could continue to fund research into the legal needs in Wales and to continue demonstrating the leadership that it has in this area. And then I think this links as well to questions around public education, public legal education and people's awareness of how they can exercise their rights as well.

14:05

Thank you. Just one more question, which leads on really nicely, actually. We've highlighted the quote from the Low Commission, who argue that public law education is as important in achieving equal justice as public health education is in tackling the nation's health, and that it should be given a higher priority because of this. So, what do you think the Welsh Government and others should do to support education and learning across wider public settings to improve awareness?

We make a number of recommendations there. It's absolutely right to say that education—and I use 'education' in its broadest sense—of the public and others such as politicians and professionals involved in the delivery of equality and human rights is absolutely key to a culture of equality and human rights in Wales. The importance of education in that broad sense, raising awareness and understanding human rights, is amply demonstrated by the research literature, and it was also supported as a priority by the stakeholders that we engaged in the research. I think in terms of what the Welsh Government should do, first of all, coming back to incorporation, is there a clearer signal about where Wales wants to go, where our leaders are taking us, than incorporation of human rights? That, of course, would send a signal about human rights and it would provide the basis for education around human rights and where human rights intersect with equality and well-being. I think in terms of particular recommendations, we talk about developing a statement on human rights, we talk about more public campaigns about human rights, in particular to address misconceptions and misinformation about human rights.

The other particular point that we make in relation to education—I suppose education with a big 'E' now, in schools—is that the curriculum was, in the view of stakeholders, a missed opportunity; there should've been within the curriculum clear reference to equality and human rights and teaching equality and human rights. Speaking personally, but this comes across in the report as well, I don't understand how a nation that is committed to equality and human rights in its revision of the curriculum didn't expressly state that equality and human rights should be taught in schools. That's come across in the evidence and it's something that we think the Welsh Government should address with more direct specification to schools to teach equality and human rights.

14:10

I think one of the problems I have is that rights are really important, but, for example, the Low Commission mentions that this public law education is as important as public health education, but public health education is definitely a work in progress, it's not something that you could say everybody is getting. Similarly, the right to a decent, warm home is something that we all aspire to, but delivering it is just much more difficult. So, you can understand the tension that there is within Government to legislate on things that we may have huge difficulty delivering. So, I wonder if you could just, before we move on to the last section, clarify that for me, because I can see that that's why Governments shy away from this.

Yes. Coming back to the notion of human rights objectives as objectives for public policy and as common objectives in relation to equality and well-being, I think it's well understood that Government will face challenges, primarily because of lack of resources, and the Welsh Government possibly more so because of its lack of control over how it actually acquires resources in order to deliver on its priorities and objectives. But I think—[Inaudible.]—that human rights are actually saying to Government, 'You must do this; you must do that'. What human rights say to Government is, 'These are your priorities; these are the fundamental needs of people in communities globally, but specifically within Wales, and you must do everything that you possibly can, making the maximum use of your available resources, to meet those objectives'.

Then, recommendations around impact assessment, for example, where people might be involved in setting local objectives, will help people to understand the challenges. Involving people in those processes will help people and communities to understand what the challenges are. And I think that by raising awareness of human rights, it's not simply raising awareness on the basis of, 'We all have the right to an adequate standard of living', for example, but what that might mean and what the challenges are and what the resources available to meet that obligation might be, and to educate people on the challenges facing Governments, the obligations that Governments are under and the various mechanisms that might be available to attain specific policy goals around human rights. And that's all part of raising awareness of human rights.

Again, this is not expressed in the report, but I think it's implicit: my personal view is that if you raise awareness of human rights amongst the public, then you start to get some very good ideas coming forward from the public during consultations, for example, where you've got an engaged public that know about human rights. You get ideas coming from people with lived experiences about how you might go about addressing their human rights needs. And I think there are several areas in Wales where there is that experience, not least in relation to children's rights; children very often make very strong contributions about how the Welsh Government should go about realistically giving effect to their rights, and I put that partly down to the success of, for example, the UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools programme.

14:15

Thank you. Sioned Williams wanted to come in at this point to probe this matter a bit further.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Mi wnaethon ni gyffwrdd ar effaith COVID yn gynharach, ac eisiau gofyn oeddwn i—. Rŷn ni’n gwybod bod y pandemig wedi amlygu a gwaethygu’r anghydraddoldebau yn y gymdeithas—rhai rŷn ni’n hen gyfarwydd â nhw—ac mae hefyd wedi codi llawer o faterion yn ymwneud â chydbwysedd hawliau unigol o ran hawliau a buddiannau eraill a chymdeithas yn gyffredinol. Felly, o ran y dystiolaeth rydych chi wedi’i chasglu ar effaith y pandemig ar hawliau dynol a’r effaith anghymesur y mae wedi ei chael ar wahanol grwpiau, fel menywod, pobl o leiafrifoedd ethnig, pobl anabl, ac ati, beth yw’r materion allweddol rydych chi'n moyn eu codi gyda ni fel aelodau o’r pwyllgor yma o ran hynny?

Thank you, Chair. We touched on the impact of COVID earlier on, and I wanted to ask—. We know that the pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated the existing inequalities in society, many of which are well known, and has raised a number of issues in terms of balancing individual rights, in terms of the rights and interests of others and society at large. So, in terms of the evidence that you've gathered on the impact of the pandemic on human rights and the disproportionate impact it has had on different groups, such as women, minority ethnic communities, disabled people, and so forth, what are the key issues that you'd like to raise with us as members of this committee in that regard?

As you suggest, COVID-19, we found, taking evidence from stakeholders, was seen as having, as you say, exacerbated existing inequalities. So, it shone a spotlight, if you like, on underlying weaknesses in the legal and policy architecture that supports equality and human rights in Wales, and a lot of those underlying weaknesses are, of course, addressed by our research in general. So, they’re not new weaknesses; they’re weaknesses that have been highlighted as a result of the pandemic. I think amongst those was impact assessment. The Welsh Government was very slow to get up to speed in relation to impact assessments. But, of course, the other thing that we say in our report is that a lot of good things did emerge from the lessons learned from the pandemic. I don’t like, necessarily, to speak about the pandemic as over as well, because it’s ongoing and we’re still learning lessons. Our main recommendation there is for the Welsh Government to continue to learn the lessons from the pandemic, to continue to engage with communities, which it did very well, and to set up specialist groups to talk about and discuss the challenges of the pandemic. There has to be a recognition, with human rights generally, but in relation to the pandemic as well, that there are, some times, conflicts in the rights of different groups, and one of the ways to resolve that is to engage with those groups and talk to them about their needs, and one of the ways that you can gauge them is through impact assessment. Of course, impact assessment helps with the balancing of rights. So, it comes back to some of our earlier recommendations to help strengthen the architecture of human rights and equality in Wales in case of future public emergencies.

The other thing that I would say is, of course, we handed in our report in September. I think we’re all aware the pandemic is far from over—it’s continuing to have an impact—and one of the things that we weren’t able to mention at the time was some of the ongoing work that was going to come down the road in terms of providing information and guidance. One of the pieces of work that I’ve been involved in is a research report by the European network of children’s commissioners into the impact of COVID-19 emergency measures on children’s rights across Europe. As you might imagine, it’s largely negative in terms of the impact. The result of that research has been a position statement, which was adopted by the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children, for governments to follow a children’s rights approach. But it could equally be said that a children’s rights approach is a species of a human rights approach—it could equally be applicable more broadly to other groups—a children’s rights approach to public emergencies. And if I were to be asked to write an addendum to the report, I would certainly include that in the lessons from COVID-19 that the Welsh Government has resources to draw on outside of Wales where lessons from the pandemic are also being learned.

Sioned, before you move on, I know Altaf wanted to come in on something that's already been said. Altaf.

Thank you, Chair. Sorry, probably the professor has addressed that, but I wanted to make sure. About the implementation, and the justice system and advocacy, what barriers exist to people being able to navigate the justice system? And the second part of this question is: what role is there for the third sector to act as advocates to take up concerns on an individual's behalf, and is there evidence of this already happening?

14:20

Thank you for that. I'll hand over to Sarah in a moment to talk about the role of the third sector in supporting advocacy. I think there's lots of evidence available in relation to the challenges that particular groups face in accessing the justice system. It comes down to, first of all, whether they have any rights that enable them to seek justice. That's the first point. The second is, do they have the resources to access justice? A judicial review, for example, is heavily resource dependant, as is accessing justice generally, in the way that we've seen cuts in legal aid. In addition, people need to be aware of their rights—so, there's another barrier there, which is awareness of rights. If you don't know about your rights, how can you possibly know that your rights haven't been breached, and, more importantly perhaps, how can you know that you've got recourse to some route in order to remedy that? So, I think there are numerous hurdles that people have to face before they can access the justice system, which is one of the reasons we've made recommendations that will strengthen the legal framework to give people more rights, but also why our recommendations also consider alternatives to enforcement through the legal system. Sarah, you might wish to add something there.

I'd agree on the barriers people face. The primary barrier is understanding what rights they have and then what options are available to support them. It relates more to some other research that we've done in relation to judicial review in Wales, and what that research shows is that, per head of relevant population, people in Wales are less likely to seek judicial review than people across all different regions of England. And in that research, people were telling us that's partially due to awareness and partially due to whether we have enough specialist public law solicitors in Wales as well. It was something that did come out of this research too: if somebody is looking for somebody to advise and represent them specifically in the area of human rights and equality, there are very few practitioners in Wales with that degree of specialism. Also, I think there's a lack of awareness of the funding that is available, because ostensibly legal aid funding is still available for judicial review, and I think there's a sense in which people are perhaps not aware that that funding is available as well. Interestingly, as well, what we found in that other judicial review research was that if somebody is supported by some kind of third sector organisation or other representative organisation, they're more likely to be successful in a judicial review claim if they do go ahead and bring one.

The other thing, though, that we found is that there seems to be more pre-action activity than you might perhaps be aware of, because there is only a certain amount of cases that actually make it to court, and that's a very small number, but there is more activity going on in terms of negotiation in terms of pre-action correspondence. And some things that seem to be coming out is that, some times, negotiated solutions are reached to that pre-action correspondence, which then means a broader legal issue isn't addressed by the court, and that broader legal issue could actually have wider implications for other people. I know that there have been some initiatives, including the Equality and Human Rights Commission, various third sector organisations and also law centres and university law clinics, to try and work together to identify, I think, particularly the strategic areas that seem to be affecting a lot of people, where a potential clarification through the courts could have a much broader impact than on individual cases. So, I do think that kind of work is already under way in terms of trying to draw out what are the key issues that can have broader impacts.

14:25

Diolch. Mae'n dilyn ymlaen yn dda fanna o beth oedd Sarah yn sôn amdano fe jest nawr o ran y diffyg arbenigedd, efallai, a rhai o'r heriau allweddol yna sy'n ein hwynebu ni yng Nghymru o ran hyrwyddo cydraddoldeb a hawliau dynol i bawb. Ro'n i ishie gofyn, o'r holl bethau dwi wedi eu clywed y prynhawn yma, dwi'n meddwl mai'r tair thema sy'n sefyll mas i fi, o ran blaenoriaethau—efallai fod hwn yn gwestiwn am flaenoriaethau a heriau penodol i Gymru a Llywodraeth Cymru—yw cryfhau'r fframwaith cyfreithiol, gwella addysg ac ymwybyddiaeth o hawliau a hefyd wella'r mynediad yna neu greu mynediad at gyfiawnder. Felly, mae'r rheini'n feysydd mawr onid ŷn nhw? Dwi'n cymryd eich bod chi'n teimlo bod yn rhaid i'r tri pheth yna ddigwydd yr un pryd i fod yn integredig. Beth fyddech chi'n dweud bod angen i Lywodraeth Cymru ei flaenoriaethu yn y maes yma er mwyn cryfhau'r ymwybyddiaeth yma a'r hyrwyddo yma o hawliau dynol a chydraddoldeb yng Nghymru? Ac ar wahân i'r hyn roedd Sarah yn sôn amdano fe jest nawr o ran, efallai, yr ymwybyddiaeth o'r broses gyfreithiol a'r mynediad at arbenigwyr sy'n medru helpu pobl yng Nghymru, oes yna heriau penodol neu allweddol eraill i Gymru sy'n ein hwynebu ni yma?

Thank you. Yes, this follows on well from what Sarah talked about there in terms of the lack of expertise, perhaps, and some of the key challenges that face us in Wales in terms of promoting or advancing human rights and equality for everyone. I wanted to say, from everything I've heard this afternoon, I think the three themes that stand out to me as priorities—maybe this is a question about priorities and challenges that are specific to Wales and the Welsh Government—are strengthening the legislative framework, improving education and awareness of rights, and also improving access or creating access to justice. Those are major issues, aren't they? I take it that you must think that those things have to happen simultaneously to be integrated, and so what do you think the Welsh Government should prioritise in this area in order to strengthen and advance this awareness and promotion of human rights and equalities in Wales? In addition to what Sarah mentioned in terms of the awareness of the legal process and the access to expertise that can assist people in Wales, are there any specific challenges for Wales that face us here?

In carrying out the research, we were very careful not to say that any of our recommendations had priority over any others, but, quite naturally, in every presentation that I've done, whether it be to the Welsh Government or external stakeholders, there's been some discussion about how these recommendations should be prioritised for delivery. What I would say is that some strike me as being necessary and immediate, whereas others can be delivered alongside work that's already going on within the Welsh Government, and possibly others, maybe further down the line when the legal framework, for example, is strengthened and there's a stronger underpinning of human rights mainstreaming and equality mainstreaming through the setting of objectives based on greater incorporation, for example.

One of the things that we do say quite clearly alongside some of our recommendations, it struck me, and I think it struck colleagues involved in the research, and it was certainly coming out from the stakeholder evidence, is that there is already a lot of work going on. We're not starting here from a static position; there's been progress, it hasn't stopped, it's ongoing, and some of these recommendations will fit very nicely, for example around monitoring, around impact assessment, around involving people, in with some of the work that's already going on. So, I think the Welsh Government will have to look for opportunities as to where these recommendations can be integrated into that work.

I think, for me, raising awareness is absolutely crucial, because the longer you leave that, the longer you leave generations that are ignorant of their human rights. So, it's important to get that priority dealt with as quickly as possible. I think, for me, this possibly reflects my particular background and my view of human rights: incorporation is absolutely key, and the Welsh Government needs to set up that taskforce. I go back to where I started, actually, with this evidence: the taskforce needs to be set up as soon as possible. That's it for me. I think the important thing for me to emphasise is that the recommendations need to be seen holistically. They're primarily recommendations to the Welsh Government, and there are recommendations to other organisations, like the Welsh commissioners and the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Some of these recommendations can be integrated with ongoing work, and some of them seem to me to be more immediate than others, but, as I said, we're not starting from a standstill here, Wales has progressed; we just need to progress in some areas quicker than we have been. 

Jest cwestiwn byr, ar ôl i Sioned sôn am y sefyllfa yma yng Nghymru. Dwi eisiau jest cymryd cam yn ôl i edrych ar y sefyllfa dros y Deyrnas Unedig. Rydyn ni'n gwybod bod yna adolygiad yn mynd ymlaen ynglŷn â'r Ddeddf. Oes gennych chi farn, o'ch profiad chi, am beth fydd yn digwydd efo'r adolygiad yna a'r effaith ar Gymru hefyd, yn enwedig yn canolbwyntio ar eich syniad chi am gael Deddf yma yng Nghymru? Diolch yn fawr iawn. 

Just a brief question, after Sioned mentioned the situation in Wales. I wanted to just take a step back and look at the situation across the UK. We know that there is a review ongoing in terms of the Act. Do you have any opinion, based on your experience, on what will happen with that review and the impact on Wales as well, particularly focusing on your idea about having a bespoke Act here in Wales? Thank you very much.

14:30

One of the areas that we were asked to think about when we were given the priorities for the research was, if you like, the backdrop to human rights in Wales, which of course would be human rights in the UK more broadly, and the Human Rights Act. We established very early on that there were a number of concerns that relate to the future of human rights in the UK. They included concerns about the Human Rights Act and what's intended for that piece of legislation, and they included concerns about what will be the future of human rights following the UK's exit from the European Union. We felt that a lot of that remains speculative, particularly around the Human Rights Act. I would hope, as the UK has been, or was, a leader in relation to human rights at the European level when the European convention on human rights was introduced, and the Human Rights Act refers to that convention, that nothing would be done that would be regressive. But, I cannot possibly—I can't anticipate what's coming down the road.

So, we felt that our best approach was, rather than to try to predict what was coming, to give the Welsh Government opportunities through our recommendations to strengthen equality and human rights in Wales in a way that, if there are any negative consequences from any decision making around human rights that the UK Government makes, they are mitigated in advance by actions that are taken in Wales, including the incorporation of human rights treaties directly into Welsh law. I know you asked me for an opinion, but I just don't know what's coming down the road. 

Na, deall yn hollol. 

No, I understand that. 

I understand completely. Just what problems, what issues might there be, but I understand that you probably can't predict what's going to happen. But, thank you very much. 

Diolch yn fawr iawn. Dyna i gyd.

Thank you very much. That's all. 

Thank you very much, Chair.

Sarah, is there anything you wanted to add to what Jane has just asked? Obviously, there's one Bill that we're going to discuss, which is the police Bill, which has got a longer title, but there are some significant impacts on the human rights of people with certain protected characteristics. So, how we are going to be able to defend human rights in the context of something that is a UK-wide responsibility is complicated. So, if anybody's got any further indications on that, we'd be very interested. 

Do Members have any further questions for either of our excellent speakers? I'd like to thank you both, therefore, for really setting out the importance of this area in our deliberations and the important role that your recommendations could play in ensuring that we are a fairer and more just Wales, with human rights at our core. You will be sent a transcript of what you have said, and I'd be grateful if you could really look at it carefully, because sometimes things are misheard, particularly, Simon Hoffman, at times, your network connection was a little bit fragile, so it might have affected the ability of the person recording what you were saying. But, I just want to thank you both and hope that we'll see you again before too long. Thank you very much indeed.

Thank you. 

Goodbye, all. 

3. Papurau i’w nodi
3. Papers to note

We now move on. There are three papers to note, which are on the agenda. One is correspondence from the Chair of the Legislation, Justice and Constitution Committee about international agreements; the second is correspondence from the Consumer Council for Water, to me as the Chair; and the third is the written evidence from Community Housing Cymru in relation to our inquiry on debt and the pandemic. Can we agree to note all three of those?

I think, on the second one, there was a suggestion that I should meet the Consumer Council for Water. If you think that's a good idea, in the first instance, if I was to meet that person—I think it's a man—to understand exactly how this social charge for water would function, because it's far too late to incorporate it into the debt report that we're in the process of finalising, but I'm sure that we'll be coming back to debt in the future, and how it impacts on the most vulnerable, and therefore it would be useful to have this evidence to hand before we take further evidence on this matter. Is that agreeable? Very good.

14:35
4. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod
4. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

At this point, I would like to recommend that, under Standing Order 17.42, we exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting and conduct the rest of the meeting in private. Is that agreed? Fine.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 14:36.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 14:36.