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New human rights casebook drives improvement in Welsh public services

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Nick Bennett
Public Services Ombudsman for Wales
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In November 2019, for the first time my office published a collection of cases where human rights matters have either been raised as part of the complaint or have been pivotal to my findings.

You might ask, why does this matter? Because public bodies in Wales are rightly expected to consider the human rights of users when they plan and deliver services.

When things go wrong, and there are implications for the human rights of those people involved, it is essential to learn lessons. By doing this public service providers can ensure they are delivering services in a way that promotes and protects the human rights of ordinary people.

As Public Services Ombudsman for Wales, I have legal powers to look into complaints about public services and independent care providers in Wales. My team places significant emphasis on exploring equality and human rights considerations when dealing with complaints.

The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates into UK law the rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Our new publication contains cases where I found that public bodies failed to consider or safeguard these rights and freedoms.

Of the cases included, six involve complaints against Health Boards, seven against a Local Authority, one against a Housing Association and one against a Police and Crime Commissioner’s office.

The cases cover a range of topics, including mental health services, end-of-life care, social services, care home funding and maternity care.

Our publication also outlines four complaints where settlements were reached as an alternative to full investigation. These cases show that organisations can change for the better when they make mistakes, but only – in our experience – where there is a culture of transparency and continuous improvement.

Some of these cases make for sobering reading. Take, for example, the heart-rending case of Mr A, a devout elderly Sikh with dementia, whose beard and facial hair was trimmed by hospital staff without permission. The family said that they, and Mr A, were distraught to discover this. They claimed that it was an act of religious violation because Mr A had never cut his beard, in line with strict Sikh observance. The family felt this religious violation contributed significantly to his decline, and Mr A sadly died some days later. I found that several of Mr A’s human rights were affected in this case.

In all of the difficult, often tragic, cases included in my office’s new publication, there are valuable lessons to be learned to ensure mistakes are never repeated.

By sharing cases like these, where human rights considerations have been central to the original complaint or the outcome, we aim to encourage learning and improvement amongst all public service providers in Wales.

To download the Ombudsman’s new human rights casebook please visit

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