An independent inquiry into human rights in Britain is to be carried out almost ten years after the original Act was passed, it was announced today.

The investigation comes after a poll for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) showed that the term ‘human rights’ still prompts mixed reactions from a large population of the British public.

According to the survey, 40% of people have either not heard the phrase ‘human rights’, are unable to name any of the protected rights or don’t know if they support the legislation.

Former Northern Ireland Police Ombudsman Dame Nuala O’Loan will be leading the inquiry.

Trevor Phillips, chair of the EHRC, said:

“Since the Human Rights Act came into force it has faced many criticisms and some would say it has lacked a powerful advocate.

“The Commission has an important role to play in separating myth from reality and embarking on a full, frank and most importantly independent assessment of human rights in Britain.

“Interestingly, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that once the individual aspects of human rights are explained the public feel more positive about the issue.”

Dame Nuala added:

“Clearly, we have an enormous challenge ahead.

“The polling conducted by the Commission indicates that there are some misunderstandings.”

The report, which is expected in December 2008, will examine what drives public perceptions of human rights and whether the Human Rights Act leads to tangible benefits in the way that public services are provided.

The announcement of the inquiry comes as Britain approaches the 10th anniversary of the passing of the Human Rights Act and the 60th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The EHRC is designed to promote a fair, equal and diverse society and tackling illegal discrimination.

It was established by the Equality Act 2006 and began work in October 2007.

It brought together the three existing UK equality commissions – the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission.

The EHRC incorporates three new human rights strands – age, sexual orientation and religion and belief.