Phillips denies ‘climate of fear’ at Human Rights Commission

By Emmeline Saunders

The chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) denied being ruling over a ‘climate of fear’ while being questioned by a Commons committee today on the resignation of four former commissioners.

Trevor Phillips, who has proved a controversial figure since he took up the chair, faced criticism from former commissioners that there was a climate of “cronyism, fear and intimidation” at the EHRC.

The parliamentary human rights committee, consisting of MPs and peers, took evidence from the four last month.

In the evidence session, Mr Phillips was accused of allegedly intimidating and isolating those who disagreed with him, and of making press statements without consulting his colleagues.

They four also disagreed with the way the board was run, and complained about the corporate governance of the commission.

Professor Francesca Klug, who resigned from the commission in July, said: “There was an atmosphere of intimidation in holding the chair [Phillips] to account.

“I’m not sure we managed to connect with the British people and explain what we stand for. I thought the commission was chasing headlines and sometimes over things I was ashamed about,” she added.

The commission, she said, was “hierarchical, unaccountable and not transparent”.

Today Mr Phillips defended his chairmanship and said he “really regrets” his former colleagues feel that way.

“I wish either in our closed sessions or in the board that they had expressed it,” he said, rejecting claims that he chaired a dysfunctional organisation and stifled debate.

“Some commissioners may have felt differently to others, but four have come before you and made their feelings known,” he said.

“There are another dozen who did not feel that.

“All of us have sat together for the best part of three years … we have delivered what I think is extremely good work.”

Lib Dem MP Evan Harris suggested Mr Phillips’ position was untenable and that he might resign as chair, which was brushed aside.

Mr Phillips was also asked about his consultancy business, which is seen to be a potential conflict of interest with his work as chair of the commission.

He responded by saying his business interest was “not a novel arrangement”.