Ministers to clarify Human Rights Act after Lords rule care homes exempt

21 Jun 07
The government is expected to introduce a narrow Bill giving council-funded care home residents recourse to the Human Rights Act, after three Law Lords ruled that the current legislation excludes them.

22 June 2007

The government is expected to introduce a narrow Bill giving council-funded care home residents recourse to the Human Rights Act, after three Law Lords ruled that the current legislation excludes them.

Reacting to the June 20 ruling, care minister Ivan Lewis told Public Finance: 'This is very disappointing. It leaves a significant group of older people unprotected in a way that wasn't intended originally by the law and we must do something about making the necessary legislative changes to put it right.'

The case was taken to the Lords by a resident, 'YL', who was threatened with eviction. Although her place was funded by Birmingham City Council, her care home – like the majority of those in the UK – was privately run. That meant she had no recourse to appeal as private bodies are not bound by the HRA.

The Ministry of Justice supported YL's argument that the private home was effectively carrying out a 'public function' and so the HRA still applied. Two Law Lords – including Lord Chief Justice Bingham – agreed, but a majority of three did not.

The ruling means that the government is now expected to adopt and modify a private member's Bill introduced by the Labour chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Andrew Dismore.

Dismore told PF that his Meaning of Public Authority Bill would not 'amend' the HRA, but merely 'make sure its meaning is clear and that it does the things the government intended it to do'.

That would mean ensuring that the HRA applied to private bodies to which public duties had been outsourced, he said. At the Bill's second reading last week, Dismore said that in addition to care homes, that could include tenants in housing association properties and looked-after children.

But Eric Metcalfe, director of human rights policy at legal action group Justice, told PF that while the government wanted the HRA to apply to the 300,000 council-funded residents of private care homes, it wanted to avoid expanding its scope beyond that.

The government would also 'shy away' from a parliamentary debate, said Metcalfe, as that could provide those concerned that the Act hindered national security with an opportunity to water it down.

PFjun2007

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