A Human Rights Bill for Scotland
In June 2023, the Scottish Government opened its public consultation on introducing a new Human Rights Bill for Scotland. We submitted a letter in response drawing on our experience of working with individuals, public bodies and policy-makers to put human rights into action.
What did BIHR say?
We welcomed positive steps to build on the UK’s legal human rights protections with the Human Rights Act as a blueprint and a foundation. There is a real opportunity for the Scottish Government to show human rights leadership here and to change the political narrative to positively reflect the true nature of the legal framework that has improved innumerable lives in innumerable ways.
However, we also raised concerns about the long and complicated nature of the consultation that excluded many people from participating and meant that even legal experts struggled to respond.
BIHR’s work has always been informed by what the Human Rights Act means for people in their everyday lives. We incorporate co-production and experience-informed research into our policy work to ensure that any conversations about human rights have people’s real-life
experiences at the heart of them. However, we were not been able to work directly with people with lived experience to create a formal consultation response in this instance, largely due to the length and complexity of the consultation questions. We therefore opted to respond through a letter that included real-life examples from our work.
Human rights are the basic elements and protections that all humans require to live in safety and with dignity... it is encouraging to note that Scottish Government is taking an entirely different approach.
1. We welcomed the commitment to the Human Rights Act.
We encouraged the Scottish Government to take this opportunity to reinforce its commitment to the Human Rights Act by explicitly stating on the face of the Bill that it is intended to be read in conjunction with and build on the Human Rights Act.
Progressive developments on rights in law within devolution, and the considerable support for human rights across Scotland, have their foundation in our Human Rights Act. This Act is the underpinning floor that protects vulnerable individuals from an overbearing government. Everyday, in discussions affecting people’s lives in care, in mental health settings, in schools, in our police stations, and more, the Human Rights Act protects individuals.
2. We urged the Scottish Government to support people to uphold human rights.
It is therefore essential that the proposed Bill does not cause further confusion or conflict with the Human Rights Act on who has duties to uphold human rights. Proper funding and structure must be put in place to provide training and ongoing support for those responsible for upholding human rights. This means that not just frontline practitioners but people working across all aspects of public bodies should be supported to understand their duties at all levels, from frontline decisions right through to strategy and service design.
We recently provided a human rights workshop for a group of
frontline Independent Advocates from mixed disciplines. Before the workshop, only 68% of advocates said they were supportive of the Human Rights Act versus 100% afterwards.
3. We emphasised that individuals must be supported to claim their rights.
There needs to be adequate funding provision for advocacy services and practical resources and/or training and ongoing support in place to support advocates and advisors. We recommended that the Scottish Government undertakes a participatory process with these services to plan how support will be delivered. The Scottish Government also needs to raise awareness and provide funding and information to support individuals to understand and claim their human rights.
And we all want a happy life, whatever that may mean to us. A life and people in it that allow us to be involved in the decisions that matter to us. A life where our basic human rights and needs are respected.
4. We said that human rights must be embedded in everyday life.
For the proposed Bill to be effective, it must be embedded in people’s lives. The Scottish Government must focus on reality, not rhetoric, and prioritise implementation alongside setting the standards down in law. We look forward to the work of the Implementation Working Group and hope this group centres the voices of both rights-holders and duty-bearers.
We would like to better understand how providers and CQC will enforce the new right and what any changes will mean in practice. In particular, individuals should have recourse to CQC when their rights are not being upheld and any restrictions on non-absolute rights should be justified to individuals and their loved ones as well as CQC, following the three-stage test in the Human Rights Act.
A lot of things we’ve been dealing with would have been dealt with a lot quicker if we’d been using human rights.
Of advocates surveyed after a human rights learning programme:
participants rated their knowledge of the Human Rights Act at 4.5/5 (versus 3.2/5 before)
participants rated their confidence discussing the Human Rights Act with individuals and public officials 4.8/5 (versus 4/5 before)
said they were more likely to use the Human Rights Act to make positive changes in their work or life
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