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The Scottish Government’s consultation on the Human Rights Bill (Scotland) closed today and the recent Programme for Government has confirmed that the Bill will be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in 2023/24.

The vision the consultation document sets out is for a bold and brave new Scotland where, within the limits of devolution, the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of everyone in Scotland will be respected, protected and fulfilled. The Bill is about ensuring that human rights are at the centre of all decisions ‘duty-bearers’ make, and if this isn’t done, remedies are available. It’s about building a culture of human rights across Scotland so people know and can claim their rights.

This Bill has the potential to make rights real for people in Scotland; in healthcare and education settings, in terms of the food they eat and the environment around them, rights will be realised in the small places close to home.

This is why we have spent time over the summer  writing our own response (see a briefing summary here) and helping to support other organisations to respond.

As noted in our previous blog, the consultation lays out that the Bill will seek to:

  • Incorporate into Scots law, within the limits of devolved competence:
    • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR);
    • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
    • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD);
    • The International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
  • Recognise and include the right to a healthy environment.
  • Ensure the rights are incorporated in a way which guarantees they can be enjoyed and accessed by everyone without discrimination.
  • Provide a clear set of duties for public bodies (including, so far as possible, private actors) carrying out devolved public functions in Scotland in relation to the rights of the Bill.
  • Create and promote a multi-institutional approach.
  • Ensure there are routes to remedy available.

The proposals in the consultation document aren’t perfect, some of this is because of the current devolution settlement restrains what can be achieved. For example, employment law is ‘reserved’, so the power to make laws and decisions about employment remains with the UK Parliament at Westminster. (We wrote about a similar issue recently in our blog about the work underway in Wales to bring the right to adequate housing into Welsh law.)

For this reason, in the consultation document the Scottish Government has suggested not bringing the right to work and to just and favourable conditions of work from ICESCR into the Human Rights Bill.

While we understand the need to make sure the Bill doesn’t go beyond the powers of the devolved settlement, in our consultation submission we asserted that these rights can be realised in more limited ways within the devolution. We believe that there would be great merit in undertaking a specific piece of work now the consultation has closed on how to ensure the right to work (and just and favourable conditions of work) and any other rights that have necessarily been carved out can be realised in more limited and specific ways within the Bill.

The proposal in the consultation represents a bright future for people in Scotland, but also hope for people across the UK. This positive, consultative process and view of rights is more than just a refreshing change from the seemingly constant onslaught against rights at the Westminster level.

Once enacted, the Human Rights (Scotland) Act would mean that our economic, social and cultural rights are incorporated in the domestic law of a nation of the United Kingdom. This would provide a blueprint for how other devolved nations and jurisdictions, and indeed the UK as a whole, may wish to proceed. We will be able to talk to people and groups within Scotland about the impact the Bill has had, learn lessons from them and read reports and data on the difference it makes. We will have a tangible example of how we can do things better.

Experience tells us that our rights progress  by learning from and building on the work of the UK’s  constituent nations and jurisdictions. Events in Scotland can be viewed as part of wider picture of work to advance human rights across the UK.

In Northern Ireland there has been the Bill of Rights process, which has included draft advice from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission on the contents of such a Bill  in 2008 which helped to frame thinking across the UK. The commitment to a Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland was hard fought for and rooted in the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. Unfortunately, it has been unfortunately held up by successive UK Governments. The #MakeOurFutureFair campaign keeps it going.

In Wales, the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 means that the Welsh Cabinet Secretaries and Ministers must always consider the rights of children as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This was an important inspiration for Scotland’s own UNCRC Bill, which built on this and went further. More recently, the Welsh Government has committed to the incorporation of the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled People, and the right to adequate housing.  We recently responded to the green paper consultation into adequate housing and fair rents, with a  white paper due next year. Check out the ‘Back the Bill’ campaign for more on this.

Positive change is already happening across the UK, and there is more on the way – this is an excellent reason to be hopeful and to get involved with our work. .

Join us in London on 8 November  – as five years on from the former UN Special Rapporteur on Poverty, Philip Alston’s, visit to the UK, we hold a conference to set out the state of economic, social and cultural rights across the UK and discuss potential solutions – booking here.

Background image by Jade for CoGenerate x Fine Acts