Right Here Right Now heads to Swansea

By BIHR Volunteer and Guest Blogger: Stacey De Souza

CRC Swansea

Last Thursday and Friday, BIHR made a guest appearance at the Wales Observatory on Human Rights of Children and Young People. The conference was titled “Rights Here: Right Now” and it was just that: two action-packed days of awareness-raising on children and young people’s rights in Wales. It was extremely well attended by academics and practitioners as well as children and young people who helped organise and facilitate the conference. Apart from the BIHR workshops, the workshop hosted by the Funky Dragon (the Welsh Children and Youth Assembly) was probably the one which I enjoyed most. Due to a withdrawal of  funding, on September 30th the Funky Dragon will cease to exist. Understandably, the sadness in their faces turned to tears by the end of their 45 minute presentation, leaving us all with a sense of remorse and gratitude for their achievements over the past 12 years.

On a brighter note, both BIHR workshops were a success. The sessions focused on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). On Thursday, the young people in attendance were put to the test in a series of CRC quiz lightning rounds. Each round was a little bit harder than the next. We kicked off with questions about the articles in the Convention and ended with questions on who the major players are in the protection of the CRC. The chocolate prizes that were up for grabs facilitated a fierce but friendly competition. It was a pleasant surprise to see how much these young people actually knew about their rights and the processes which surround the Convention. To top things off, we ended the day with a bit of bunting to celebrate the 25th birthday of the CRC and its poll position as the most popular human rights convention in the world!

The fun continued at Friday’s workshop with an even greater turn out. Graphic facilitator Ramon Carr joined us at a workshop titled “Map my Rights: A Forward Strategy for Wales”. Each team was tasked with producing a list of recommendations for the Welsh Government on how they can protect the rights of children and young people The teams were also asked to suggest ways that the Welsh government can eliminate obstacles and provide support to help engage young people’s with the CRC and the forthcoming examination (expected 2017). We put our drawing skills to the test with the aid of Ramon as we transferred our written thoughts into visual representations. In between the fits of laughter, there was meaningful and passionate discussion as those in attendance shared what rights they felt they lacked as young people.

The highlight for us all I think, was the presentation of the graphic facilitation from Friday’s workshop at the final plenary of the conference. Those who presented stood confidently before the entire conference as they voiced their shared opinions on what the Welsh Government needs to do next to safeguard children’s rights. It was a proud and powerful moment for everyone in the room.

Whilst young people have so much to say, they are often not given the space to express it. Conferences such as “Rights Here: Right Now” offer the perfect opportunity to bring the voices of young people and children to those with decision making powers. In my opinion, if there is to be progress in the protection and execution of the CRC, more events like this one must be hosted to ensure that this gap is filled.

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Human Rights Here and Now: young Londoners tell us what they think

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By BIHR guest blogger Sosa

 

Summer holidays are in full swing and yet, on a cloudy day in August, BIHR were getting ready to host the London leg of the Human Rights Here and Now project. With funding from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), BIHR designed three young people’s events which focused on engaging young people with their rights set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The events provided a way to foster much needed conversation concerning young people and their rights by providing a crash course on how the Convention aims to protect young people’s rights. The day was also a great opportunity to inform them on how they could get their voices heard on the issues that matter to them.

At the Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch there was a room filled with eager young people who had come to the event from as far as Norfolk. The day was packed with talks and activities and was accompanied by a live artist depicting the day’s events on a large canvas. After a quick icebreaker the young people were shown the articles from the CRC and this was used as a starting point to launch discussion on the rights of young people.

The knowledge and energy that the young people took from the day was particularly evident in the presentations the young people made to a mock committee. Many of them, initially shaky and shy, really came into their own. For example, one young person used her experience of growing up on Traveller sites to inform her understanding of human rights. Constantly having to move because of the changing law and improper implementation, she described how many in her situation had little education or faced bullying and discrimination in schools. Another young person spoke about the lack of opportunities to participate in human rights mechanisms. How, despite events such as this, young people aren’t given a voice in human rights discussions. All of the groups spoke about a desire to improve opportunities to engage and set a goal of actual CHANGE.

We then delved into a bunting making session, with many teens (and BIHR staff and volunteers) rekindling their nurseryDSC_0625[1] years by playing with glitter glue and felt tip pens. Yet, in the midst of such fun an important plea was made: the young people need more. Although some were armed with information that was impressive to hear, sadly many of them weren’t.   Many were not clued up on what rights were afforded to them at all, and this event provided basic learning, not improvement of knowledge they already possessed. Many had issues they wanted to voice, almost all that would be helped by encouraging and facilitating their engagement with human rights discussions.

Respecting the right to family life: the Human Rights Act, parents with learning disabilities and access to justice

By Sanchita Hosali and Natalie Threfall at British Institute of Human Rights

“Human beings are social animals. They depend on others. Their family, or extended family, is the group on which many people most heavily depend, socially, emotionally and often financially. There comes a point at which, for some, prolonged and unavoidable separation from this group seriously inhibits their ability to live full and fulfilling lives.” (Huang, 2007)

The right to respect for family life protected by the Human Rights Act (in Article 8) goes to the heart of decisions involving children and care, reminding us to consider the both the rights of a child as an individual and their rights as a member of a family. Yet it is a human right that is often misunderstood in practice (and sometimes maligned in headlines and sound-bites). A recent decision in the family court, Re DE (A Child) [2014] EWFC 6, is a reminder that the local authority and its staff need to understand that consideration of the Human Rights Act is an important part of making fair and lawful decisions that respect the rights of the child and the family.

What happened?

The case concerned D, the child of a couple with learning disabilities. D had been subject to a care plan from birth, and had been living at home with his parents who were supported by the local authority. The local authority had become concerned that D’s welfare was deteriorating and made plans for D to be taken into foster care. This would be followed by a hearing to determine the future of the care plan. The parents’ solicitors asked the courts for an injunction preventing D from being taken into care before the care plan hearing. They said the injunction should be given using powers under the Human Rights Act, because removing D before the hearing was a disproportionate restriction on their right to respect for family life. The first judge rejected this as he did not believe he had the power to grant such an injunction.

Challenging the interim care decision on human rights grounds

At the higher court Mr Justice Baker found that the first judge had limited himself and his powers wrongly when refusing to grant an injunction under the Human Rights Act. Local authorities have a duty under section 6 of the Human Rights Act to make sure all their decisions respect the rights in the HRA. In D’s case the authorities had failed to respect the Article 8 rights to the family (discussed below). Therefore the courts, which also have a duty under section 6 to respect human rights in their decision making, can rely on the Human Rights Act to prevent an unjust decision. This means if a judge has the power to grant an injunction, a power which has recently been granted to the family courts, then they can grant an injunction under the Human Rights Act.

Did the care decision therefore violate the rights of D or his parents?

The right to respect for family life is a qualified right, this means officials can restrict this right when there is a law in place to allow such a restriction and when it meets one of the aims set out in the Act, e.g. to protect the rights of others. In any event, any restriction of the right should be proportionate. This means all alternatives should be considered, and the decision maker should not simply jump straight to the most restrictive option.

In cases of removing a child from the family home, looking at the situation through a Human Rights Act lens means recognising that the child and the family have rights which should be respected unless the tests of lawfulness, legitimate aim, and proportionately justify restriction. For example, where a child is at danger of serious harm or neglect the Human Rights Act places a positive obligation on officials to step in and take action (this underpins safeguarding).

In D’s case he was not in immediate danger, nor was there any threat of future danger. Yet he was taken into foster care before the hearing to determine the future of the care plan and the child’s best interests. If, after a full and proper hearing had been carried out, it was found to be in D’s best interests for him to be taken into foster care, the interference with his and his parents’ Article 8 rights would be justified. However, to take him into care when he was not in danger and before evidence could be heard from his parents failed to take the family’s human rights into account.

What does this mean?

D’s case simply (but importantly) clarifies that in such situations parents can apply to the courts for an injunction under the Human Rights Act. Whether the removal decision breached human rights, is a matter which must be decided at a full hearing.

However, it does have a broader significance in reminding officials about the importance of taking human rights into account at every stage of the decision making process. We have blogged before about cases where decisions that drastically alter peoples’ lives have been made before their human rights have been considered and the proper safeguards put in place, such as in RR v Milton Keynes Council where the local authority failed to apply for authorisation to remove an elderly woman from her home. The decision in Re D highlights once again the weight local authorities must put on all rights when making their decisions.

Hold on, there is an access to justice issue too

D’s case also raises access to justice questions, an issue of growing concern with recent changes to legal aid, which have had a particular impact in family and civil cases. Because of the specific nature of the original care plan and the changes that were being enacted, under the Children Act 1989 the family fell into a gap that left them without non-means tested legal aid. As the father had a steady, but low paying job, he was unable to access legal aid and his solicitors and barrister acted pro bono.

Justice Baker highlights this gap as being a real barrier to accessing justice, particularly for adults with learning disabilities involved in care proceedings. Being unable to challenge a local authority’s care decision potentially leaves many families separated and unable to challenge violations to their rights. In particularly serious cases, being unable to contest life altering decisions may also risk falling foul of the right to a fair trial under the Human Rights Act (Article 6), which applies in many civil issues including family law.

At the end of his judgment, Justice Baker specifically calls this point to the attention of the President of the family courts, Sir Justice Munby. This week he made the important decision to suspend proceedings in a case where contact arrangements for a child were complicated by his father’s inability to access representation or translation services (Q v Q).

That case deals with contact arrangements between a father (who was a registered sex offender) and his child. As part of the hearing both sides put their case and evidence to the judge, however in this case legal aid for the father has been discontinued, and without translation or representation he cannot take part in the case. Justice Munby said:

“that there could be circumstances in which, without the assistance of a legally qualified representative, a litigant might be denied [their right to a fair hearing] … these are matters which are required to be investigated in justice not merely to the father, but I emphasise equally importantly to the son, as well as in the wider public interest of other litigants in a similar situation to that of the father here … there is the risk that, if one has a process which is not fair to one of the parents, that unfairness may in the final analysis rebound to the disadvantage of the child.”

As a result, he has suspended proceedings, inviting the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to intervene in the case and explain how the costs of the case, which is “necessary and fair”, should be met. If necessary, he says, it may be the court, as a public body with a duty to respect human rights as described above, which must meet the costs of the case and ensure access to justice. We await the Minister’s response…

 

 

Swansea – First Young People’s Tour Event!

By: Guest blogger Novlet Levy

On Saturday 14th September, the Human Rights Tour stopped off in Swansea, welcomed by a spirited and diverse group of young people who were all keen to learn more about human rights and to express some of the concerns they had about human rights and the issues that affect them as young people. The event was hosted alongside the Wales Observatory on the Human Rights of Children and Young People – an organisation that prides itself in it20130917_131500s commitment to supporting children and young people to access their rights.

At the beginning most of the young people said that they had less knowledge of children’s rights than they had of human rights generally.  Nevertheless, a thorough presentation from the Wales Observatory representative made sure that the young people left knowing about the foundations of the rights that protect children and exactly what those rights are!

As the day went on, discussions became more and more comprehensive. One young person raised the issue of conflicting rights, asking whether a child can use Article 31 of the Convention of the rights of the child (the right to rest, play and leisure) to avoid going to school which is also a right in the convention (Article 28). The question gave the facilitators the opportunity to reinforce the idea of balancing rights and recognising the importance of certain rights in proportion to others, which all the young people agreed was crucial.

Amongst all the interesting and stimulating discussions of the day, the highlight was definitely the ‘What do you think?’ session where the young people were given the opportunity to present what they believed to be the key human rights issues for young people in the UK today, but also what changes they think should be made. The group was split up into three smaller groups and given different issues to discuss. These included; young people and education, young people and care and young people and discrimination. There were loads of thoughts and suggestions from the young people, many of them thought provoking. Here are a few examples:graffic 2

–          The opinions of young people should be given greater weight when decisions about their own care are being made.

–          Behavioural units (for young people excluded from school) are a good thing but there should be more of them equipped with staff that have undergone intensive training and are able to encourage children in a positive way.

–          That disabled children should be listened to more as they have different experiences and see things from a different perspective.

Attending and observing the Swansea Human Rights Tour event reinforced to me the extent to which the views of young people and children have so much more to contribute to the development and protection of our human rights laws within the UK. The British Institute of Human Rights in partnership with the Wales Observatory organised an event that was a huge success and fulfilled its aim of raising the awareness of Human Rights law in the UK and expressing just how relevant they are for young people and children.

This was the first of three young people events included in the Tour this year- the next stop is Glasgow on the 1st October! You can book your place by clicking here.