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On Thursday 15 June the Scottish Government published its consultation on the new Human Rights (Scotland) Bill. They also published accessible versions, including an Easy Read and Audio Transcript.  The consultation is accepting responses until 5 October.

We believe the Bill could have very important implications for the human rights landscape across the UK.

If our economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) are effectively ‘brought home’ in Scotland, it provides the rest of the UK with a roadmap on how to do it and allows us to see at close hand the benefits of this approach.  

Below we explore what the Bill proposes, what impact it could have, implications for the rest of the UK and why we are encouraging groups and individuals to get involved in the consultation process.

The content of the Bill

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.

A new Scotland – potential positive impacts

The Bill could have hugely positive impacts for people across Scotland.

As noted by the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Shirley-Anne Somerville, “What it will do is create a legal framework for us to embed international human rights within domestic law and drive transformative, positive change for people – empowering them to claim their rights.”

Indeed, the Bill, if delivered effectively (including with proper enforcement powers), will make a direct difference to the lives of people in Scotland, ensuring that human rights are at the centre of all decisions duty-bearers make, and if this isn’t done, remedies are available.

This change could be transformational, building a culture where human rights are at the basis of decision making across public life in Scotland.

It could also provide a long-term solution to the era of crises we have been living through over the past decade and a half.  As also stated by Somerville, “By giving domestic legal effect to these standards, Scotland can ensure that focused attention on fundamental rights like health, housing and an adequate standard of living is not a political choice.”

Learning from Scotland – potential implications for the rest of the UK

The work within Scotland to better realise rights through legislation is not only a refreshing change from the seemingly constant onslaught against rights at the Westminster level, but an important opportunity to change the trajectory of rights across the UK.

What happens in one part of the UK influences other parts. For example, in 2011 Wales led the way on the rights of children and young people, by making the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) part of its domestic law through the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure.

More recently, this experience was built upon and strengthened in Scotland through the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, which was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in March 2021 (although a subsequent challenge in the UK Supreme Court has delayed its progress).

Importantly, domestic incorporation and consideration of ESCR is increasingly becoming the norm across the world.

The Bill represents an important move to bring our ESCR home in Scotland; providing the rest of the UK with a roadmap and real example for how to do it, and the benefits of this approach.

The Bill allows us to show a different way is possible, one where we do not just try to shore up and protect our existing rights framework but start having wider conversations about all the rights we need in our domestic law to ensure everyone in the UK can thrive and lead a life of dignity.  

Get involved in the consultation on the Bill

We are working with our colleagues at the Human Rights Consortium Scotland to encourage and support groups and individuals across the UK to respond to the consultation.

This is such an important moment not only for people within Scotland, but for human rights across the UK.  Another way is possible and within our reach.

For more information check out the toolkit from the Human Rights Consortium Scotland for responsing to the consultation. 

Background image by Sofia Kolovskaya for Fine Acts