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20 February 2015
The Good Friday Agreement

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Equality and Rights
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission
     
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The body that will draw up proposals for a Bill of Rights is the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission which came into existence on 1 March 1999. The Commission, the first of its kind in Western Europe, is led by its Chief Commissioner Professor Brice Dickson, formerly a professor of law at the University of Ulster, and nine part-time Commissioners. It is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to ensure "as far as practicable" that the commissioners, as a group, are representative of the community. The Commission has an annual budget of £750,000, which the Chief Commissioner believes is not adequate for it to fulfil its functions fully.  
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Key Academic Opinions
Functions and powers
Key Newspaper Articles
Equality group is lopsided
Who cares about the guardians of our rights?
     

The functions and powers of the Commission are set out in Sections 68 to 71 and Schedule 7 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The principal functions are:

 -  The Commission has the powers to vet all legislation going through the Assembly to ensure it is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Legislation that contravenes international human rights standards will not be passed into law.
 -  It has the powers to investigate human rights abuses and bring legal proceedings on its own account or on behalf of individuals. However, the Government has not given the Commission the powers to acquire documents or interview witnesses. In this regard its powers fall short of the UN approved international standard for national human rights institutions as laid down in the Paris Principles. The Commission will advise the Secretary of State on additional rights to be enshrined in a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, which will supplement the rights in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Good Friday Agreement states that such additional rights should reflect "the principles of mutual respect for the identity and ethos of both communities and parity of esteem".
 -  Under the Good Friday Agreement the Irish government is required to establish a similar Human Rights Commission. Both Commissions will work together in a joint forum to establish a common set of human rights standards throughout Ireland.
 -  The Commission will also promote an active human rights culture in Northern Ireland through education and the media.
 
Key Academic Opinions
Human rights protection on the island of Ireland
     
The promotion of a human rights culture in Northern Ireland has raised a number of provocative questions. In particular, one writer raises critical questions about how human rights should be enforced while another questions the lack of public debate around the concept of human rights.  
Key Academic Opinions
Enriching political democracy: human rights, law and mistrust
Some problems with Human Rights
     
Image of Bill of Rights proposal
Commission's proposals for a Bill of Rights
To encourage debate and ownership of any future Bill of Rights, the Human Rights Commission launched a public consultation process on 1 March 2000 to find out what people wanted to see included in the Northern Ireland Bill of Rights.

The Commission held a wide range of events at which people could present their ideas and on 3 September 2001 it published its provisional proposals.

The Commission will be taking until the end of May 2002 to consider all the views submitted. This will enable people to make submissions to the Commission or to add to submissions already made. As soon as the Commission has considered the public reaction it intends to send its final proposals to the Secretary of State with a recommendation that the government enact the Bill of Rights as soon as possible.
 
Key Newspaper Articles
Time for debate to begin
Bill of Rights Plan fails Agreement
Joint Study of Human Rights
Divided reception for Bill
   
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