The Profile: Bridging the Gap between Human Rights and Justice; 'The Only People Who Have Something to Fear Are Those Who Are in Favour of Breaching People's Rights and Criminals'

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The modest and gentle manner of the Human Rights Commissioner for Northern Ireland hides his multiple achievements. For not only did the boy genius from east Belfast graduate to Oxford at the tender age of 17 to study law, but only six years later he became a university lecturer. GEMMA MURRAY talks to Brice Dickson about his deep passion for human rights and and the need for a Bill of Rights in our troubled Province.BRICE Dickson was a contemporary of Prime Minister Tony Blair at Oxford University in the early 1970s - but they never crossed paths.

The self-admittedly "green behind the ears" boy who moved from Ballyhackamore to Newtownards at the age of six, feels the privilege of Oxford, in a sense, cost him.

He was the second pupil from Regent House to reach the academic pinnacle - and he felt a tremendous pressure to do well.

"It was a very daunting experience for me as I was a country lad from Newtownards,'' he said. "I just found it a very intimidating experience which was not helped as I was 17, while the bulk of other first year students were 19 and 20 because they had taken a year off after A levels. I felt like a fish out of water.''

Thirty years later Brice, 48, realises he reacted to the somewhat uncomfortable situation by throwing himself into his studies - perhaps to the detriment of student life.

He said: "At Oxford, although I joined various clubs and played rugby a bit, I didn't get involved in student politics, which I might have done if I had gone somewhere else. I was busy trying to keep up with the workload.

"But the best thing about my Oxford experience was the people I met. It is a very diverse community with people from all around the world. I met some very good friends there, many of whom I am still in touch with.''

After a brief return to Northern Ireland to study for the Bar, Brice set off for further studies in the Sorbonne in France. There, he spotted an advertisement for a teaching post in Leicester university.

He said: "I got the job and really fell into the post without having thought much about it. I was then 23.

"But I enjoyed teaching and when a lecturing job came up at Queen's university in Belfast in 1979 I came home.''

First Minister David Trimble worked along with Brice in the Queen's law faculty. Although they didn't share the same views on civil liberty issues in Northern Ireland, they had a meeting on minds on other subjects.

He said: "I enjoyed various conversations with David about history and opera. He is a very well read man.

"David left around 1989, while I left in 1991 when I was appointed professor of law at the University of Ulster in Jordanstown.''

Three years ago Brice moved to the Human Rights Commission - formed as part of the Good Friday Agreement.

Controversy has surrounded the initial, and November 2001, appointments to the commission. But Brice is quick to dispel any fear that any community will not be properly represented.

"We all share a commitment to the international standards on human rights and that is appropriate,'' he said.

The Human Rights Commissioner believes there has been significant progress on the human rights front in Northern Ireland.

"The paramilitary ceasefires, or those that still remain, represent great progress,'' he said. "There have been improvement to the laws of equality, particularly through section 75 equality schemes which public authorities have to draw up. …