Brice Dickson

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Professor Brice Dickson, a barrister from Northern Ireland, is Professor of International and Comparative Law at the School of Law, Queen's University Belfast. Formerly Professor of Law at the University of Ulster, he became the first Chief Commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) on its establishment in 1999, serving two three-year terms.


Under Dickson's leadership the NIHRC developed as the first statutory national human rights institution for Northern Ireland, replacing a former advisory commission. The NIHRC monitored human rights compliance, advised the United Kingdom government and the Northern Ireland Assembly on legislation and policy, provided legal assistance to individuals and secured recognition within the United Nations and Council of Europe human rights systems.

The latter years of Dickson's tenure at the NIHRC were marked by controversy and the resignations or withdrawal from participation of several part-time Commissioners. After agreeing to the Commission's draft Bill of Rights proposals in 2001, two Commissioners later resigned because they felt that the final advice offered by the Commission operated to reduce rather than augment rights because it would enable attacks on fair employment mechanism and the power-sharing arrangements of the Beflast/Good Friday Agreement. Another area of difference related to the Holy Cross dispute in which Loyalists sought to blockade a Catholic primary school in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast.[1]

The NIHRC's Casework Committee decided in November 2001, to support a legal action brought by a Holy Cross mother who sought judicial review of the handling of the dispute by the then police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), a decision that was implemented by the NIHRC. Dickson and some other Commissioners disagreed with the decision and the Chielf Commission later wrote without the consent of the NIHRC to the then RUC Chief Constable, Ronnie Flanagan, assuring him that he and some others did not agree that there was a support the legal action against him.[2] That letter was disclosed to the other Commissioners at the time but was later referred to in correspondence by the Chief Constable to Brice Dickson, some time later when he wrote stating he would make the letter public in the course of the legal proceedings, and "very strongly urge[d] the Commission to review its funding decision" and "strongly" maintained that it was inappropriate for the Commission to continue to commit public funds to this litigation.[3] Brice Dickson responded in writing stating: Our Commission meets again on Monday 8 April and we will be considering then our involvement in this particular litigation. I should be able to let your office know on the following day what the outcome of our consideration has been. I would be most grateful if you could delay taking a decision on the disclosure of my letter of 4 December until then.' He proposed to the Commission that it withdraw funding from the case, without disclosing to the applicant that the funding for her case was under review, or to the Commission that he had written back to the Chief Constable proposing to review the funding decision. The UK Joint Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights in a review of the NIHRC's work criticised the Chief Constable's actions as inappropriate.

The letter became public in the course of the subsequent legal proceedings. In 2003 two Commissioners, Christine Bell and Inez McCormick, withdrew from the Commission over the matter and concern over the Bill of Right advice.[4] Another Commissioner resigned also citing concerns with the Commission,[5] and two further commissioners 'withdrew' from the Commission.

When Dickson's term as chief commissioner came to an end and was not renewed by the UK Government, the NIHRC was left without a chair for some months. The judicial review application against the RUC continued to receive support from the NIHRC post Dickson's resignation, but was ultimately to fail in the High Court, in the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland and in the House of Lords. In the course of the proceedings the RUC revealed the name of the applicant who had been given anonymity due to threats against her life.

Academic career[edit]

He left the NIHRC in March 2005 to take up his chair at Queen's. On returning to academic life, Dickson's research activity has included work on the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, formerly the judicial or appellate committee of the House of Lords.

Dickson is the author of numerous legal textbooks. He was a co-founder of the main human rights non-governmental organisation in Northern Ireland, the Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ).


  1. ^ Beatrix Campbell. "Holy Cross school, Belfast: two years on". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 April 2016. 
  2. ^ "Madden & Finucane Solicitors". Madden & Finucane Solicitors. 
  3. ^ Fourteenth Report of Session 2002–03, Work of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, HL Paper 132, HC 142, page 16, citing Chief Constable's letter
  4. ^ "Sinn Féin backs call for Brice Dickson resignation". Retrieved 11 April 2016. 

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