How do I make a complaint about a violation of the Convention?
Within Northern Ireland
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) provide means of redress for disabled people who have been subjected to unlawful treatment. The Equality Commission has responsibility for the DDA - click here for more information and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has responsibility for the HRA - click here for more information.
Although you cannot take the Government to court because of a breach of the Convention, there are several ways in which you can use it to strengthen your case - whether you are challenging the Government or a public body.
For example, if you are taking a case under the Disability Discrimination Act, you can rely on the relevant Convention Article(s) to help the court interpret its meaning. Similarly, you can also rely on the Convention when you pursue a complaint against a public authority internally, using the Section 75 complaints mechanism or through inspectorates.
At UN level
At UN level, the Convention´s Optional Protocol enables the UN Disability Committee to consider individual cases (communications procedure) as well as systemic violations (inquiry procedure) (link to this section below) of disabled people´s human rights.
If you are considering legal action or making a complaint to the UN Disability Committee, be aware of time limits. You also only have a certain amount of time to bring a claim or a judicial review after your rights have been breached.
The time limits for taking a complaint under the Disability Discrimination Act can be found here. To find out about the time limits in cases under the Human Rights Act, please contact the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
You must make your complaint to the UN Disability Committee within six months of going through the United Kingdom or European courts.
How can the Equality Commission or Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission help?
Before deciding whether to use the Optional Protocol seek advice from the Equality Commission or Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.
How do I make a complaint to the UN Disability Committee?
Once you have decided to take your complaint to the UN Disability Committee, the Optional Protocol of the UNCRPD provides two methods by which the UN Disability Committee can investigate compliance.
- The communications procedure allows people to bring a petition to the UN Disability Committee if they believe that their Convention rights have been breached and they have exhausted means of redress via the UK courts.
- The inquiry procedure allows the UN Disability Committee to undertake inquiries, when reliable information is received into allegations of grave or systematic violations of Convention rights.
1. COMMUNICATIONS PROCEDURE
You can complain to the UN Disability Committee about a violation of your rights under the Convention if:
You are the (alleged) victim. If you are not the victim you must have permission to act on the victim´s behalf.
- The complaint is against the government. It cannot be brought against other authorities, for example your council. If you believe that the Assembly at Stormont is in breach of the Convention, then you must still complaint against the UK Government although it would be best to first use any available complaints mechanisms.
- The complaint is well-founded. This means you need evidence that a real human rights violation has taken place. The violation must clearly relate to one or more articles of the Convention.
- The complaint does not go against the principles and rights set out in the Convention. You have used all the possible legal remedies available in the United Kingdom without success.
- There is no national law you can use to enforce that particular Convention right. For example there is no national law that says that government has a duty to ensure disabled people have an adequate standard of living and an accessible home. However, if you are living in real hardship or in conditions that cause you loss of dignity, even after claiming all the benefits and grants you are entitled to or because of grossly inadequate housing, this might be a situation where a complaint could be made to the UN Disability Committee (because the government has not taken enough steps to make real the right to an adequate standard of living, Article 28).
- The issue you are complaining about must have either happened after the UK ratified the Convention, or if it started before the date of ratification (8 June 2009) it must still be continuing at the time you want to make the complaint.
- You cannot make an anonymous complaint (in other words you need to say who you are).
- The issue must be one the UN Disability Committee has not looked at before.
- The issue must be one that is not being looked at by another international rights body like the European Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights.
Assuming your complaint meets all the criteria and you have been advised to go ahead, how do you make your complaint?
You will need to put it in writing and send it to the UN Disability Committee. The UN Disability Committee will provide information on its website on making a complaint.
What happens then?
If the UN Disability Committee accepts your complaint, it will ask the government to respond. The Committee then meets in private and decides what finding to make.
The UN Disability Committee gives both parties a copy of its recommendations, and a summary is included in its annual report.
The UN Disability Committee´s findings and recommendations may not be enforceable but they carry a lot of moral authority because Governments don´t like to be told that they´re wrong, and will often try to put things right. It may force the Government to pass new legislation, change a policy or find the money to sort the issue out.
2. INQUIRY PROCEDURE
How do you get the UN Disability Committee to launch an inquiry into human rights violations?
The UN Disability Committee can launch an inquiry into severe or widespread violations of the Convention by any country which has ratified the Convention and Optional Protocol. ´Widespread´ means the violations affect a lot of disabled people and/or appear to be part of a deliberate policy. The Committee would need reliable evidence about the alleged violations before deciding an inquiry is needed. Individuals or organisations can submit evidence or use the ´individual communications procedure´ to bring such breaches of rights to the attention of the UN Committee.
If you think there is evidence of severe or widespread violations of Convention rights that the UN Disability Committee should investigate you would need to:
- work together with other disability groups and the national Human Rights Commissions to assemble detailed evidence about the rights violations, and
- write to the UN Disability Committee asking them to investigate.
You should check if either the Equality Commission or Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission would be willing to conduct an inquiry instead. Seek their advice about whether a UN inquiry is needed.
Experience of inquiries under other Conventions shows that they can be an effective way of stopping human rights abuses and bringing about change.