Human Rights

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In 1948 the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), setting out the fundamental rights and freedoms shared by all human beings. Established following the Second World War, the UDHR is described by the Equality and Human Rights Commission as "a living document that matters not only in times of conflict and in societies suffering repression, but also in addressing social injustice and achieving human dignity in times of peace in established democracies".

Human rights in Scotland

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is an international treaty which provides a framework for the protection of human rights across Europe. The ECHR is given legal force in Scotland through the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Scotland Act 1998

Under the Human Rights Act, all public authorities in Scotland, including private bodies carrying out public functions, must act in accordance with the ECHR in everything they do.

The Scotland Act places a duty on Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament to act in accordance with the ECHR and states that every Executive Bill introduced to the Parliament must be certified by a Government Minister as compliant with the ECHR. 

Human rights bodies

The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) was established by the Scottish Parliament as Scotland's national human rights institution. An independent body, the SHRC works to protect and promote human rights in Scotland.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has a statutory remit to promote and monitor human rights across the UK, and to "protect, enforce and promote equality across the nine "protected" grounds - age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment."

The Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland (CYPCS) is a statutory post, currently held by Bruce Adamson, designed to promote and safeguard the rights of children and young people in Scotland. 

Scotland's National Action Plan for Human Rights

In December 2013 the SHRC published Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP), setting out key commitments aimed at improving human rights protection in Scotland.

The Action Plan was developed by a drafting group including the Scottish Government, local authorities, the NHS and the Care Inspectorate, among others. The evidence base for the Action Plan, Getting it Right: Human Rights in Scotland, found that Scotland has a broadly good record in policy and law making but that human rights are not consistently promoted or protected in people's lives.

Key areas of concern include care, disability rights, health and criminal justice. Priority 4 in the Action Plan reads: "Enhance respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights to achieve high quality health and social care."

Commitments in the Action Plan include:

  • Joint working on the inclusion of human rights in the integration of health and social care, as well as work on health inequalities
  • Work between the Scottish Government and partners to put human rights at the heart of the principles which guide delivery of health and care services in Scotland, as part of the review of the National Care Standards.
  • Work on a human rights-based approach to independent living, including national strategies for learning disabilities and Self-directed Support.

Progress in making the changes recommended in the Action Plan will be independently monitored, and regular reports given to the Scottish Parliament. The Action Plan runs until December 2017.

Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessments 

A website to support public authorities in assessing equality and human rights implications is available from the SHRC. The Equality and Human Rights Impact Assessment (EQHRIA) website includes a range of resources, including an explanation of the added value of the human rights dimension, good practice ‘building blocks’ for assessing impact and other training materials.

Children's Rights

Adopted in 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a legally binding document setting out the basic human rights that anyone up to the age of 18 should enjoy, anywhere in the world. 

The UK Government has an obligation  to report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child every five years. The Scottish Government contributes to this report and its most recent submission can be accessed here.

One of the aims of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 is to "ensure that children’s rights properly influence the design and delivery of policies and services by placing new duties on the Scottish Ministers and the public sector and by increasing the powers of Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People".

The Act includes:

  • requirements that Ministers "keep under consideration" how to "secure better effect" of the UNCRC and to promote awareness of it; 
  • a requirement that Ministers and public bodies report every three years on their progress in "giving better or further effect to" the UNCRC; and
  • an extension of the powers of the SCCYP to undertake investigations on behalf of children and young people.

A new protocol has been introduced to enable children to submit complaints to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child about specific violations of their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The treaty, known as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure, came into force on 14 April 2014.

The State of Children’s Rights in Scotland report is published annually by Together, the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights. The 2017 report includes a wide range of case studies illustrating how a rights-based approach can make a significant difference to the lives of children and young people, and also improve the quality and effectiveness of public services. The findings are based on a range of cluster areas, including the general principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), as well as civil rights and freedoms, violence against children, family environment and alternative care, disability, education and special protection. The chapter on general measures of implementation of the UNCRC includes a case study on the Care Inspectorate’s child-rights based approach to inspecting child services and its joint inspections guidance. 

Year of Young People 2018

2018 is the Year of Young People and the Scottish Government plans to use this opportunity to promote the rights of children and young people. Plans have been announced to carry out an audit on ways to further embed the principles of the UNCRC in policy and legislation, as well as a three-year programme to raise awareness of children's rights.

Key Documents and Resources


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