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These pages apply mainly to the United Kingdom.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified by the UK on 8th June 2009. With the possible exception of European treaties, the CRPD is the most important international treaty on disability. To put international instruments in context, see the introduction.

The Convention, often known as the 'CRPD', came into force in May 2008. The convention text and news are available on the United Nations website at www.un.org/disabilities.

The UK Government submitted its first compliance report on the CRPD in November 2011: see The First Report on the UN Convention (link to Office for Disability Issues). Reports from governments and (importantly) from other people are assessed by a UN disability committee. See below Monitoring by UN disability committee.

EHRC guide and examples

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has produced a very useful guide to the CRPD (link to EHRC website).

To pick out just a few points from the EHRC guide:

The EHRC guide (in 'What obligations does the Convention place on the government?') says the CRPD recognises that many countries may not be able to take steps to make some of the rights real for all disabled people immediately, but the government should still try to do everything in its power and use all available resources to make sure disabled people enjoy their human rights as quickly as possible. Also the UN is likely to expect a relatively wealthy country like Britain to be doing better than a developing country.

Does the CRPD have teeth?

The Convention is not directly enforceable in the UK courts. UK anti-discrimination legislation - most importantly the Equality Act 2010 (and before October 2010 the DDA 1995) - will remain the main legislation one wants to fall within. However these are some ways the Convention can have practical relevance:

Interpreting UK law

The CRPD may be relevant in interpreting and applying legislation which is directly enforceable in the UK. This includes Equality Act 2010, for example what is a reasonable adjustment, and the Human Rights Act. Further, for public authorities having due regard to the Convention may be seen as part of their compliance with the public equality duty.

Burnip v Birmingham City Council, Court of Appeal, 2012.
UK housing benefit rules were found to infringe Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights. The Court of Appeal said that had it been uncertain whether Article 14 applies (which it was not), the CRPD would have resolved the uncertainty in favour of the claimants.

Interpreting European Union law

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has said that, so far as possible, the Framework Employment Directive (with which Equality Act 2010 must comply) must be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the CRPD. The CJEU has used the Convention in interpreting this directive (Ring case below), and the UK and its courts are bound by the directive as interpreted by the CJEU.

Ring v Dansk almennyttigt Boligselskab, 2013, Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)
The CJEU emphasised the importance of the CRPD, which the EU ratified in 2010. The court said the provisions of the CRPD are now an integral part of the European Union legal order. The EU's Framework Employment Directive must, as far as possible, be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the CRPD.

In the present case, the CJEU took the UN Convention into account in interpreting both the meaning of disability (in particular so as to take into account the social model of disability), and the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Complaints against public authorities

The CRPD could be used when making a complaint against a public authority, either through internal procedures or through inspectorates such as the Care Quality Commission or Ombudsman.

Monitoring by UN disability committee

Countries' compliance with the CRPD is assessed by a UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ("UN Disability Committee"). The committee can make recommendations where it finds deficiencies. The UK government says (on ODI website): "Any recommendations - which will be public - will not be legally binding on the Government, but will be carefully considered at that time."

The UK Government submitted its first compliance report on the CRPD in November 2011: see The First Report on the UN Convention (link to Office for Disability Issues). This will be considered by the UN Disability Committee in due course.

Bodies other than government, including charities, can also produce reports to be fed though to the committee. Reports from outside the govenment will be particularly important to the committee in reaching its conclusions. The EHRC says that producing a 'shadow report' is one of the most effective ways of bringing about change for disabled people. For guidance on producing reports, see the EHRC guide to the Convention: How can I get involved in monitoring and reporting? (link to EHRC website).

Disability Rights Watch UK (external link) is a project that aims to monitor the UK's performance in implementing the Convention, by collecting evidence about the experiences of disabled people in the UK. It wants to show the UK Government where they need to improve law, policies and practice, and also the evidence to create a report to send to the UN Disability Monitoring Committee outlining where the UK is not meeting the standards required. Its website invites disabled people to submit their own story.

Advocating for change

The Convention can be used in advocating for changes to laws and policies, locally and nationally. Having ratified the Convention, the government is commited to taking practical action to make its rights real.

Individual petition to the committee

An individual (or group) can petition the UN Disability Committee if they consider the government (but not other authorities) has breached their CRPD rights and domestic remedies have been exhausted. There is more on this in the EHRC guide to the Convention: How do I make complaint to the UN Disability Committee? (link to EHRC website).

This option to make an individual complaint is available under the Optional Protocol which the UK has ratified. However the scope of this option is limited because of the requirement to have exhausted all rememdies within the UK.

Inquiry by UN Disability Committee

Also under the Optional Protocol, the UN's Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is able to conduct an inquiry if it receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations by a State of Convention rights.

The Committee is understood to be conducting an enquiry into UK social security provision for disabled people: The disability activist who called in the UN (link to Guardian, 16/9/15).

Optional Protocol

On 26th February 2009 the UK Government also signed the Optional Protocol to the CRPD - see www.officefordisability.gov.uk/working/un-convention/index.php.

This Protocol establishes two of the procedures mentioned above, which are aimed at strengthening the implementation and monitoring of the Convention. These procedures are the bringing of an individual petition to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities claiming that the State (e.g. the UK) has breached their Convention rights, and conducting an inquiry if the Committee receives reliable information indicating grave or systematic violations.

The EHRC put out a statement on this: Commission welcomes Government's commitment to disabled people's human rights (link to EHRC website), 3/2/09.

Ratifications and reservations by UK

The UK government site covering the ratification of the CRPD is www.officefordisability.gov.uk/working/un-convention/index.php. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), in addition to their guide mentioned above, also has further information about the Convention at UN Convention on Disability Rights (link to EHRC website).

The UK ratified the Convention subject to certain reservations and 'interpretative declarations'. Details are set out in an Announcenment by Jonathan Shaw (external link, pdf), the Minister for Disabled People (13/5/09). The reservations and declarations relate to

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had called on the Government to ratify without reservations (August 2008 Position statement - link to EHRC website).

Further links

International instruments.


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Last updated: 17th January, 2012