Focus: Policy and Politics - Human Rights law - Charity calls for end to care loophole

Francois Le Goff

Help the Aged says Human Rights Act covers only public care homes.

Help the Aged is urging the Government to close what it sees as an unfair loophole in the Human Rights Act.

The charity published a report this month revealing that older people are exposed to mistreatment in private care homes because the Human Rights Act covers protection from age discrimination only in care homes run by the public sector.

The legal loophole was opened by a judge presiding over a case brought by a resident of a Leonard Cheshire care home in 2001. The judge decided that the Act did not cover care homes run by the private or voluntary sectors, even if they were as part of a public service contract. The Government had previously said the Act should cover private bodies carrying out public functions.

"But the judge said it was not about what you did but who you were," said Kate Jopling, public affairs officer at Help the Aged.

The charity received support from Baroness Greengross in July during the Equality Bill's committee stage. Greengross tabled an amendment to extend the definition of public authority under the Human Rights Act to protect people who receive care from private and voluntary agencies.

But Baroness Scotland argued the amendment would protect only a proportion of those who lost their rights after the Leonard Cheshire case. "We are not convinced such a piecemeal approach is justified," she said.

Scotland pledged that the discrimination law review launched by the Government in February would look into the definition of public authority in the existing equality and human rights legislation. "The current situation is unsatisfactory and we are taking all reasonable steps to right it," she said.

The amendment was eventually dropped, but Help the Aged said it forced the Government to show its commitment to closing the loophole in the Human Rights Act.

"The Government wants to close the loophole through case law rather than change the Equality Bill itself," said Jopling. "But it might take a long time before a new case comes along."

Help the Aged said it will maintain its pressure on the Government to make sure action is taken quickly on the matter.

The Government also refused to give the proposed Commission for Equality and Human Rights enforcement powers.

KEY POINTS

- A report by Help the Aged claims older people are exposed to mistreatment in private care homes because of a loophole in the Human Rights Act

- The loophole was created by a ruling on the 2001 Leonard Cheshire case

- Baroness Greengross tabled an amendment to the Equality Bill to rectify this, but it was dropped

- Help the Aged will continue to pressure the Government on the issue.

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