The Human Rights Act comes into force next month. But how do
you ensure all your staff are getting the message? As prison management and
security giant Group 4 recognised, it’s not something that can happen overnight
It is hard to think of anywhere the Human Rights Act is going to have a
greater impact than in our prisons, where conventions such as the right to
privacy, the right to freedom of expression and the right to protection from
torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment must be balanced against
public interest obligations. It is a tightrope act that every officer in every
prison must learn for him or herself, as any decision made in the heat of the
moment could have lasting consequences.
But how do prison employees suddenly become experts in human rights law?
Clearly that is not going to happen. What employers must aim towards is a
revolution in culture – creating a whole new mindset that instinctively
considers the rights of the individual in every decision and action.
It is much more than a matter of putting every member of staff through a
potted seminar on the HRA, as Jim Harrower, chief operating officer of the
world’s largest security organisation Group 4 Falck acknowledges.
"The new Human Rights Act impacts in a fundamental way on
organisational performance. It means that public authorities need to think more
before they act. They need to ask questions first, and then act. If we get this
right, we are more likely to provide superior public services."
Group 4 is no stranger to controversy over human rights. The firm which
recently merged with Danish company Falck, has been a pioneer in the
much-criticised social policy of contracting out prisons and prisoner
transportation. Though this is only one part of a global business now employing
115,000 people and turning over £1.25bn per year, it is the part that has since
the early 1990s been the subject of intense political and media interest. At
the centre of the maelstrom has been the Group 4-managed immigration detention
centre, Campsfield House in Oxford, which has led to concerns about the human
rights implications of interning unconvicted refugees.
"Arguably, we have been subject to a level of public and media scrutiny
beyond that of the private sector," Harrower says. "We are dealing
with highly sensitive areas of public service delivery."
This scrutiny can only increase once the HRA comes into force, he believes.
"All public authorities will face increased human rights scrutiny. You
only need to go to Scotland, where the act is partially in force against the
executive, to see this. The newspapers carry news of potential and actual
challenges on a daily basis."
Of particular relevance to Group 4’s criminal justice services will be
articles 3 (on torture and degrading and inhuman treatment), 8 (on private
life) and 14 (on discrimination), Harrower believes.
But he also says general aspects of the European Convention and its
interpretation will be of "profound importance". "I have no
doubt that its introduction, coupled with other changes in the law, will lead
to a greater emphasis on information disclosure and fair procedures. Fair
treatment will not only have to be done, but will have to be seen to be
Harrower rejects the argument that the Human Rights Act is a burden for
business. "On the contrary, it gives companies a positive framework of
rights which they can use to their advantage. It is entirely right that the
privilege of providing public services should carry with it the responsibility
to ensure that they are delivered according to the public interest."
Contrast this with what Gareth Hadley, director of personnel for the Prison
Service Headquarters, had to say in the last issue of employers’ Law: "The
HRA will have little or no impact on our department as our policies comply with
and often exceed legal requirements. Our lawyers have already checked our
procedures and practices against the HRA. The only training we have introduced
is for line managers about the impact on prisoners. We are a good employer and
while there may be something we have not thought about waiting to trip us up,
we are confident that our practices will stand the test of this extra
It isn’t hard to decide which of the two organisations is living in the real
Group 4 has been preparing for the act since last autumn. Its response has
been to make sure its human rights programme is integral to corporate strategy,
linked to key corporate objectives of continuous improvement and investing in
"We think it makes sense to have a broader human rights perspective,
one which takes in all relevant laws," Harrower says. "Central to
this is recognising the potential for institutional discrimination and tackling
it whenever and wherever it occurs. The death of Stephen Lawrence showed how
rights must be brought home for everyone, and how organisations must overhaul
their polices and practices to ensure this. No organisation or institution can
afford to be inactive or remain complacent since few, if any, are immune. It is
our public and social responsibility to act."
In implementing its programme Group 4 established five guiding principles:
– unequivocal leadership from the top
– corporate citizenship
– promoting best practice
– ensuring compliance
– partnership and involvement
With visible support from the very top of the organisation, Group 4’s
programme is linked to a wider corporate citizenship policy. Its aim is to
create a positive culture which rewards best practice and changes poor
practice. It is examining its recruitment, promotion and appraisal systems.
Harrower says it will reward best practice and "will make it clear that
those who knowingly tolerate or manifest bad practice will be called to
A corporate citizenship taskforce, composed of senior managers across the
operating companies, is steering the company’s human rights programme. Audit
managers are responsible for checking compliance with human rights laws and
carrying out audits within the operating companies. The corporate citizenship
taskforce is responsible for developing action plans for the operating
companies. They, in turn, have to report back to the taskforce on progress
"We can never be sure that mistakes will not be made, but we are doing
everything in our power to prevent them," Harrower says. "We will
create the right climate in which if mistakes are made, they can be readily
admitted and corrected.
"Our programme is ambitious. It is a long-term one focusing on cultural
change, prevention rather than cure. We are in the process of establishing
working systems to prevent institutional abuse of human rights and to promote
Harrower compares the changes taking place with those that were ushered in
by the Health and Safety at Work Act in the 1970s: "It placed new
responsibilities on all employers to promote safety and prevent accidents. Far
from harming employers, it created a sea of change in attitude and new positive
partnerships between employer and employee. A healthy workforce promotes
prosperity. In a similar way it makes sound business sense to bring rights home
to the workplace."
A comprehensive training and development programme has also been introduced,
to meet the needs of particular service areas and employees working within
"Our training and development programme has to be relevant to the
individuals’ working practices and environment," explains Harrower.
"The needs of front-line providers may be very different from those who
are working on compiling the audits. We have different training programmes
planned for the auditors who require more detailed knowledge of the Act and the
auditing procedures. We are running human rights awareness courses based on
inter-active exercises and human rights pilot training programmes focusing on
individual behaviour and attitudes.
"If I should try and characterise our training programme, it is that it
focuses on education and development. It rejects an "off-the-peg"
approach which can often seem irrelevant or marginal to the individual and the
company. So before we do any training, we spend some time assessing the
particular needs of the groups or individuals."
The training plan has been complemented by an external and internal
communications plan designed to promote the opportunities created by the act to
improve services and workplace relationships.
By the time 2 October comes Group 4 aims to have in place a managerial
system which will provide for continual review of policy, procedure and
practice and action plans for corrective action.
"This will enable us not only to get it right now, but in the future.
For as case law develops in the UK, we will need to ensure that our practice is
compliant. Clear managerial structures of accountability and responsibility
have been built into the programme."
A comprehensive human rights and diversity audit has been carried out, to
establish the human rights "health" of each company. Audit managers
have been appointed within each operating company, working with external
advisers and independent verifiers. The audits will be repeated at regular
"I think it is very important to identify the two key elements of the
audit," comments Harrower. "First, there is the audit of policy and
procedure and second, there is the audit of practice. Both use different techniques
and both are vital. However, good the written policies that a company has, at
the end of the day, it is the practice that fundamentally affects individual
An audit toolkit has been designed, consisting of information, checklists
for best practice and a quality system for recording and monitoring human
rights issues across the organisation. The quality system is designed to ensure
the company can readily adapt to developing case law and statute.
A model human rights policy has also been drawn up, along with detailed
Action plans, including the findings of the audit, are being devised, with
action teams in every operating company to ensure corrective action is taken
where necessary. Performance indicators and benchmarks are being used to
So how would Harrower summarise the changes taking place?
"First, we are putting into place procedures to ensure that our policies
are visible and our procedures transparent and quality assured. We understand
that where we are involved in infringements of liberty, we must show these can
be justified and are based on solid reasons.
"Second, we are developing more open and accessible relationship with
the wider community. We were the first private sector company to join the Human
Rights Consortium which is examining cross-cutting issues relating to the
implementation of the act.
"Third, we believe our established investigations and complaints
procedures are fair. To ensure they reflect best practice and comply with the
letter and spirit of the Act, we are subjecting them to external scrutiny.
"Fourth, we will continue with our efforts to recruit a balanced
workforce supported by a programme of individual development to ensure that
everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their full potential.
"Our ambition is to ensure that people from all walks of life can
fulfil their potential within our organisation and that our services meet the diverse
needs of our customers. Our aim is to ensure that respect for human rights is
at the heart of everything we do. This is not simply a matter of justice. Our
very success depends on it."
Human Rights Act – the key provisions
Section 3: requires
legislation to be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the
European Convention on Human Rights so far as it is possible to do so.
Section 6: makes it unlawful
for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention
right unless it is required to do so by primary legislation which cannot be
interpreted compatibly with the Convention.
Section 6 (3) (b) and (5): means a body whose functions are partly public and partly private
is a public authority in relation to its functions of a public nature but not
in relation to acts that are private in nature.
Section 7 (1) (a): permits a
victim of an act by a public authority which infringes a Convention right to
bring proceedings in the appropriate court or tribunal.