The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in Providing Access to Justice
The Role of National Human Rights Institutions in Providing Access to Justice project
examines the roles that National Human Rights Institutions in Europe do, and should, play in dispute
resolution. The project is funded by the
The project is being carried out by a research team from three universities:
About the project
Background and outline
Throughout Europe, attention continues to be paid to devising appropriate forms of dispute resolution beyond the
traditional courts in large part to reduce costs and alleviate pressure on the judicial system. This project,
funded by the Nuffield Foundation, examines the roles that National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in
Europe already play and should play in the provision of access to justice in times of austerity.
The 1991 UN Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (‘Paris Principles’) recommend
a dispute resolution role for NHRIs. While this role has not received much attention, momentum to more
actively promote NHRIs as providers of access to justice is growing. This is demonstrated, for example,
by the work of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in this area. Forms of dispute resolution relevant
to NHRIs include agreement-based processes such as mediation and conciliation and adjudicative-based
processes such as arbitration and tribunals.
Very little is known about the role NHRIs already play in dispute resolution; how effective
and legitimate this role is; and how they deal with the due process requirements of international human
rights law. This project therefore seeks to address how NHRIs have functioned as providers of access to
justice and their effectiveness to date. It also addresses another important gap that arises from the
lack of analysis of the compliance of dispute resolution processes within NHRIs with the access to justice
provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and broader international human rights law.
This is particularly important in relation to due process issues such as procedural justice, effective
participation, equality and non-discrimination and quality of outcome.
In filling these gaps, this project will provide a baseline analysis of how effective NHRIs have
already been at dispute resolution and will propose a framework for designing or modifying dispute
resolution processes within NHRIs in the future, in line with the requirements of access to justice
under the ECHR and international human rights law. It is anticipated that the project will play a
significant role in influencing policy developments at the national and European level.
Key issues and research questions
The research will be organised around the two key issues:
- understanding how and why NHRIs have already played a dispute resolution role; and
- developing a framework for how they should play such a role in the future.
The project will therefore question the role that NHRIs in Europe have already
had as providers of dispute resolution. In doing so, the project will question how effective NHRIs
have been as well as whether there are other models of dispute resolution available to NHRIs in Europe.
More specifically, the research questions will encompass consideration of the wide range of human rights
issues dealt with by NHRIs and whether all these types of disputes would be suited to agreement-based and/or
adjudicative dispute resolution processes. This is likely to be affected by other factors including the nature
of the respondent in the dispute (state or private actor such as a company) as well as the necessary regard
to procedural safeguards (e.g. equality of arms, non-discrimination and procedural justice) and costs.
Research on these questions will also allow for consideration of the possibility that dispute resolution within NHRIs
could assist where legal advice and legal representation (including legal aid) are not accessible. Finally,
thought will need to be given to the enforceability of an NHRI decision or agreement reached before
an NHRI and whether there ought to be an appeal process within the NHRI or to a court.
Methods and activities
Research will be undertaken on the role of NHRIs in dispute resolution in the following jurisdictions:
Bulgaria, Netherlands, Croatia, Poland, Spain, Northern Ireland, Ghana, Uganda, Canada and/or Australia.
These jurisdictions have been chosen because they host commissions with experience in dispute resolution.
The African commissions in particular are often held up as a model internationally. They will be used as
comparators to the European models as the types of dispute resolution used by these bodies differ from the
ombudsmen function in Europe, using mediation (Ghana) and internal tribunals (Kenya and Uganda). These
bodies also have a wider mandates than equality bodies in Europe that have a dispute resolution function
in dealing with complaints against state actors for a range of alleged human rights violations.
This research will be organised around desk-based research, case studies and qualitative interviews
with key stakeholders from NHRIs, policymakers and experts in dispute resolution and human rights.
The aim is to produce a report and set of recommendations, presented as guidelines for NHRIs on dispute
An Advisory Group will advise on the design, scope and implementation of the project throughout.
The Advisory Group is composed of experts from NHRIs and policy makers as well as experts on
international human rights law and dispute resolution. There will also be an expert meeting to
discuss the project’s report and recommendations prior to publication.
Updates on the project will be published during the course of the research on this website as well
as through blog posts or other publications. The research findings will be published as a major report.
The report and recommendations of this project will be aimed at three constituencies:
- NHRIs within Europe, the European Networks of NHRIs, Equality Bodies and Ombudsmen and their regulatory body, the International
Coordinating Committee of NHRIs (ICC);
- Government bodies, civil society and other interested stakeholders at the national level;
- Policymakers and stakeholders at the international level such as the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA),
the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights National
Institutions and Regional Mechanisms Section (OHCHR NIRMs).
National Human Rights Institutions: a panel discussion on their work and mandate
Wednesday 28 January 2015, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are key actors in the promotion and protection
of human rights. This panel discussion examined the work and mandate of NHRIS (including
human rights commissions, ombudsmen institutions and equality bodies).
The speakers considered the role that NHRIs play in the international and national human
rights framework, including the different types of NHRIs and their functions.
The speakers reflected on the continuing validity of the Paris Principles (which guide
the establishment of NHRIs) as well as the differences and links between equality bodies
and NHRIs. Finally, the discussion covered the ways in which it is possible to assess the
effectiveness of NHRIs as well as the developing role of NHRIs in both the UN and regional
For further information about the project, please contact
or Hélène Tyrrell.
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