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Background

In the UK today, our rights of everyday life are protected in international law, but not in our domestic law. This makes them insecure and difficult to enforce. However, Scotland is working to change this, and this is important for the protection of rights across the UK.

The Scottish Government has recently confirmed that a Human Rights Bill will be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in 2023/24. This Bill will bring into Scots law (within limits of devolution) the international treaty on everyday rights (ICESCR), the rights of people who experience racism (CERD), rights of women (CEDAW), rights of disabled people (CRPD), and the right to a healthy environment.  

This is monumental in terms of making sure the everyday rights of people in Scotland are guaranteed.

But this vital work in Scotland also provides a blueprint for how other parts of the UK, and indeed the UK as a whole, could bring these rights into law.

For these reasons, we want to make sure the Human Rights Bill is the best it can be, and so have been doing a lot of work on it over the past year.

In this blog we lay out some of this work, and what will happen next.

Back in Spring 2023 we knew that a consultation on the Human Rights Bill was coming, so we started having conversations with colleagues in Scotland about how we could work together. One clear thing we identified was that we could put time and resources into not only responding thoroughly to the consultation, but also encouraging other UK-wide organisations and academics to respond.

Once the consultation was published, we started helping to spread the word, and share guidance – including the excellent Human Rights Consortium (HRC) Scotland ‘toolkit’ – on how to respond. To do this, we used social media posts, our newsletter, and a bespoke blog.

We also put time and resources into individual communications with several key organisations, working to inform and persuade them of the importance of responding.

We also drafted our own response to the consultation, answering all 44 questions, totalling around 17,000 words. This was a significant piece of work for our small team and involved bringing in expertise from across our staff and trustees.

In addition, we held several meetings with organisations in Scotland to discuss the intricacies of the Scottish context and ensure our response was coming in behind civil society in Scotland and supporting their input. In taking this approach, we felt that we could not only stand over our own response, but also speak with a degree of knowledge to other UK-wide organisations.

We held two events to support groups across the UK to respond.

On 6 September we organised an event for senior leaders and academics to have an open and frank discussion about the consultation, what it meant, and what ways of approaching it might be most useful. As a result of this session, the HRC Scotland developed a short guide on key points that organisations in Wales and Northern Ireland who lack the capacity to respond to the full consultation could sign up to and send in as responses. This was a practical, achievable way for them to show their support.

This was then followed by a joint open session which was much more of a ‘nuts and bolts’ run through of responding to the consultation and what you might need to consider. In total, twenty-four organisations attended. One attendee noted that as a result of the session they were now planning to submit to the consultation and another reported, “It was an excellent and very helpful session.”

A key speaker at our Westminster conference on 8 November was Emma Roddick, the Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees in the Scottish Government.

In the context of a conference about our everyday rights, Emma gave us an excellent overview of what is happening in Scotland, and those with lived experience of human rights in the audience told us that this intervention gave them hope that change was possible.

The independent analysis of responses to the consultation was published on 24 January 2024.

We were delighted to be directly quoted three times in the document, and that so much of what we said chimes with what wide swathes of Scottish civil society thinks.  We were quoted in terms of:

  • Our concern that the use of the term ‘equalities treaties’ by the Scottish Government could undermine the full scope of the rights these treaties confer.
  • Our view while the Convention Against Torture is not contained in the Bill, the Scottish Government should be required to deliver services aimed at rehabilitation from torture and effective remedy.
  • Our agreement with the Scottish Government’s proposed approach that organisations with ‘sufficient interest’ should be able to bring cases.

You can read more about the analysis in this guest blog by our friends at the Scottish Human Rights Consortium. In reading through the analysis, we were really struck by how united respondents are in their support for the project of bringing rights home to people in Scotland.

Where there’s differences, it seems most often to be about the details on how best to achieve a goal, but the goal that people want to see is the same – a fairer and more just Scotland where people can enjoy good standards of human rights.

Conclusion and next steps: Building a human rights culture

This unity of purpose and vision by respondents to the consultation hasn’t come about by accident. It is the result of dedicated and focused work across Scottish civil society and Scottish Government to ensure that people, including rights holders, are being brought along together on a journey to create a better society.

This work of building a culture of human rights, where people know and can claim their rights is long and resource intensive, but the consultation responses show that this work has results, and the results are very much worth it.

We are so grateful to our colleagues in Scotland for allowing us to be part of this journey with them and letting us put our shoulder to the wheel where it’s helpful. We are watching and learning from this process to help inform our own campaign on incorporation of our everyday rights across the UK. To get involved join the UK Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Network.

To learn more about what is likely to happen next on the Scottish Human Rights Bill, check out this great infographic from the HRC Scotland.