Tannock: HRC’s independence must be protected
Extra legislation to protect the independence of human rights commissioners is needed, it was claimed yesterday.
Tawana Tannock, the outgoing chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission, said the organisation was not linked to a government department but legislation had not been amended in line with its remit.
She joined the board in 2013 and was appointed after a selection process that was open to the public for the first time because of changes in the Human Rights Act, which came into effect in October 2012.
They provided for an independent selection and appointment committee to recruit, interview and appoint the commissioners, at least one third of whom have to be members of the Bermuda Bar.
The HRC was removed from the Government’s Department of Human Affairs in April 2016 and became a non-ministry department.
Ms Tannock believes the Act should also allow commissioners to help manage the organisation.
She said: “If you are going to go from a government department to an independent body, it’s important that change is reflected in your legislation.
“For instance, you will find a lot of references in the Act about needing the approval or reporting to the minister responsible for human rights, so that should be reviewed.
“Who should be getting those reports? Who should be laying the reports before the House? What approval needs to be given? Does approval need to be given?”
Ms Tannock added that the HRC had experienced no political interference during her two consecutive three-year terms.
She said the Progressive Labour Party administration appointed a minister to liaise with the commission, but under the former One Bermuda Alliance government that responsibility was the premier’s.
Ms Tannock said: “It should really be something that is specified in the Act.”
A new team of commissioners is expected to be appointed by the end of the month and Ms Tannock said there was a need for “a corporate governance body of commissioners”.
Ms Tannock said: “One of the things that I think is most important with this new body of commissioners, whoever they may be, is that they are passionate about human rights but they also are skilled in the effective management of an organisation or some aspect of it.”
She added: “I think the Act should be reviewed to ensure that commissioners can actively help the executive director and her staff to manage the commission.”