Factors impacting on effectiveness of National Human Rights Institutions 2010 – 2012


This project explored the factors that shape the performance of National Human Rights Institutions (NRHI) and national equality bodies, focusing on the six statutory commissions in the UK and Ireland which fulfil those roles: the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and Equality Authority of Ireland (EA); the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) and Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI); the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC); and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC, covering England, Wales and Scotland).

Principal Investigator

Sarah Spencer, Colin Harvey (Queen’s University Belfast)


Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust


Policy and Politics website blog, 24 February 2014, Policy, politics, health and housing in the UK by Danny Dorling

Irish Presidency of the EU Conference presentation, 10 May 2013


Civil SocietyDiscriminationPoliticsRights




The literature suggests multiple external and internal factors shape the performance of National Human Rights Institutions including the domestic political context, powers and relationships of independence and accountability. Scholars emphasise different groups of factors in relation to different NHRIs and National Equality Bodies worldwide. Understanding the key factors is fundamental to debate on establishment, merger and reform of these bodies.


The project involved scrutiny of the legislation and policy documentation relating to the six commissions, interviews and a two day residential seminar with key informants.


No single factor explained the controversies that have surrounded the performance of these bodies during periods of their history. Domestic political settings, and mergers of pre-existing bodies, were two key factors, but neither external factors nor remit, powers, structure or resources were determinative. Leadership, management skills and political judgement remained key factors and those, crucially, lie within the Commissions’ control.


The project resulted in advice being sought, formally (in March 2015) and informally at an earlier stage, in the setting up and strategic priorities of the new commission established in Ireland, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.