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.
In January 2019, the Scottish Government published an update on progress in implementing UN Human Rights Council recommendations in five thematic areas following the third Universal Periodic Review of human rights in the UK in May 2017.
The Scottish Commission for Human Rights Act 2006 created the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC). The SHRC is an independent public body that promotes and protects the human rights of everyone 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 read: "Enhance respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights to achieve high quality health and social care."
Commitments in the Action Plan included:
- 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.
The first Action Plan ran until 2017. Work is underway to develop 'SNAP 2' and a consultation has been launched on proposals from a Development Working Group of around fifteen people from across civil society and the public sector.
National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership
The Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People and Professor Alan Miller of Strathclyde University co-chaired a National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership to “ensure Scotland is a world leader in putting human rights into practice”.
The taskforce focused on the development of new legislation which would enhance the protection of the human rights of every member of Scottish society, overseeing wider work to deliver a blueprint for human rights legislation covering all areas of devolved responsibility.
In March 2021, the Taskforce published the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership Report setting out its recommendations and evidence base to the Scottish Government for establishing a statutory framework for human rights that will bring internationally recognised human rights treaties into domestic law to protect and advance the realisation of human rights for everyone in Scotland.
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.
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".
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.
In December 2018, the Scottish Government published Progressing the Human Rights of Children in Scotland: A Report 2015-2018. As well as highlighting activity undertaken during that period, the report also notes the Government's intention to incorporate UNCRC into Scots law. The Scottish Government also consulted on a proposed Action Plan for 2018-21 on progressing children's rights.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was passed by MSPs in March 2021.The Bill is designed to incorporate the UNCRC into law in Scotland and will replace the reporting duty placed upon public bodies by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.
The Bill specifies that:
- public authorities must not act in a way that’s incompatible with UNCRC requirements
- courts will have powers to decide if legislation is compatible with UNCRC requirements
- the Scottish Government can change laws to make sure they are compatible with UNCRC requirements
- the Children and Young People’s Commissioner in Scotland would have power to take legal action if children’s rights under the UNCRC are breached
- the Scottish Government must publish a Children’s Rights Scheme to show how they are meeting UNCRC requirements and explain their future plans for children’s rights
- the Scottish Government must review how the Scheme is working every year
- other public authorities mentioned in the Bill must report every three years on what they have done to meet UNCRC requirements.
Also see: Children's rights legislation in Scotland - a quick reference guide - February 2019
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