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Lucy Miller is the Senior Policy Officer at Human Rights Consortium Scotland and Steering Group member of the UK Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Network.

In the realm of human rights, Scotland has been on a transformative journey, seeking to embed our fundamental rights into its legal fabric. The recently concluded consultation on the Scottish Human Rights Bill witnessed an overwhelming 397 participants sharing their perspectives. In this blog, we delve into the responses to that consultation.

Most respondents expressed support for the concept of the Bill, which aims to incorporate four international treaties into Scots law, ensuring a robust legal framework for human rights. This includes the incorporation of the right to a healthy environment, a proposition that resonated strongly with many.

Support for a phased approach

A consensus emerged among respondents on how public authorities should have to deal with the new responsibilities the Bill presents.

Respondents favoured the initial inclusion of a procedural duty – which would require authorities to take rights into account in their decision-making and would be the initial step before moving to a more robust enforceable duty to comply with the rights.

Many respondents suggested a two-year timeline for this transition. A few emphasised the importance of keeping both duties – the idea is that the procedural duty should not be replaced but rather complemented by the duty to comply, ensuring a cohesive and effective framework for upholding human rights in Scotland.

Concerns voiced

Respondents noted that navigating the intricate balance between devolved and reserved powers will pose a challenge during the Bill’s development. People emphasised the need to maximise devolution while cautioning against overstepping boundaries, urging the Scottish Government to tread carefully.

A significant concern focused on what was perceived as a deficiency in the Bill proposals regarding group rights treaties. Specifically, respondents highlighted the importance of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). A significant number of participants advocated for a duty to comply that would encompass all these group treaties.

Support for equality and justice

Most respondents expressed support for an equality provision in the Bill, advocating for it to include various additional marginalised groups. Calls for inclusion of LGBTI people, older people, care experienced people, those with physical or mental health issues, underscored the desire for a human rights framework for those who are too often excluded or ignored.

Respondents emphasised the vital role of active participation by people facing the highest risks to their rights. The proposal to define Minimum Core Obligations (MCOs) based on the threshold of dignity had widespread support, and for courts to be required to consider dignity when they are making decisions about rights. Respondents also highlighted the need for accessible advocacy and advice services for everyone, and improvements to access to justice.

Conclusion

A recurring theme throughout the responses was the call for enhanced clarity in terms used, plans, and duties outlined in the Bill. Also, the importance of robust guidance, capacity building, and government support emphasised the need for a well-supported implementation strategy.

As we unravel the insights from the responses to the consultation, a clear message emerges. While the proposals lay a solid foundation for progress, there is overwhelming support for the Bill and its incorporation into the legal framework in Scotland.

The resounding endorsement highlights a collective desire to see the realisation of human rights for all in the country. However, amidst this widespread support, there is a clear and urgent call to strengthen various aspects of the Bill. This consultation has set the stage for more inclusive and comprehensive legislation, echoing the collective aspirations of the people of Scotland for robust human rights protection.

The Scottish journey of embedding fundamental rights in our legal fabric presents a really powerful example that other parts of the UK, and the UK as a whole, can learn from and build upon.

 

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Background image by Gabriela Dominguin