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Resource Type Policy & Legislation

Human Rights

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 are to co-chair a National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership to “ensure Scotland is a world leader in putting human rights into practice”.

The taskforce will focus 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.

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.

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 recently consulted on a proposed Action Plan for 2018-21 on progressing children's rights and held a consultation on incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law in Scotland, publishing an analysis of responses after the consultation closed. A Bill will be introduced in 2020 to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots Law.

Also see: Children's rights legislation in Scotland - a quick reference guide - February 2019


Useful Links

National strategies and frameworks

A library of publications by the Scottish Government and other national bodies setting out relevant policy developments or direction

Government Legislation

Legislation which may be relevant to you and your service

Health and Social Care Standards

The Health and Social Care Standards set out what we should expect when using health, social care or social work services in Scotland

Latest Adult and Health Bulletin

A weekly bulletin produced by our policy team providing an update on the key developments in adult social care and health

Adult and Health Bulletin: 12 - 18 September 2020

Adult and Health Bulletin: 12 - 18 September 2020

Adult and Health Bulletin: 12 - 18 September 2020

Latest Children and Young People Bulletin

A weekly bulletin produced by our policy team providing an update on the key developments concerning children and young people

Children and Young People Bulletin: 12 - 18 September 2020

Children and Young People Bulletin: 12 - 18 September 2020

Children and Young People Bulletin: 12 - 18 September 2020