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Protecting and promoting human rights at home and abroad

Issue

Every person is entitled to inalienable fundamental rights and freedoms.  In Scotland the legal framework exists to ensure respect for human rights, and we are active in continually and consistently applying these principles so that fundamental human rights are guaranteed for every member of Scottish society and promoted in our international action.

Actions

Background

Scotland sits within the international legal framework of human rights standards developed since the end of World War 2.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), incorporated into UK Law in 1998, requires public authorities, including local government, public services and agencies, to act compatibly with ECHR and permits alleged breaches of human rights to be heard before UK courts.  It also requires for the judgements, decisions, declarations and advisory opinions of the ECHR, as well as opinions and decisions of the Council of Europe and Committee of Ministers, to be taken into account by domestic courts.

We are working to increase awareness amongst the general public, embed understanding within the public sector, tackle the significant human rights challenges in Scotland, and fulfil our international responsibilities.

Legislation

Human rights in Scotland are given legal effect through the Scotland Act 1998, section 57(2) of which states: “A member of the Scottish Executive has no power to make any subordinate legislation, or to do any other act, so far as the legislation or act is incompatible with any of the Convention rights…”

Who we are working with

UK Government, Scottish Human Rights Commission, Equality and Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, Council of Europe and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Scottish Human Rights Commission

The SHRC is the national human rights institution for Scotland, compliant with the United Nations Paris Principles relating to the status of national institutions and with the highest level of accreditation ("A status"). SHRC promotes and protects the rights guaranteed by all of the international conventions ratified by the UK. It is an independent body established by the Scottish Parliament in 2008 to promote and protect the human rights of everyone in Scotland. Engaging with the international human rights system, including UN treaty bodies and the Human Rights Council, is one of the Commission's responsibilities.

The functions of the Commission, as set out in the Scottish Commission for Human Rights Act 2006, include a general duty to promote awareness, understanding and respect for all human rights - economic, social, cultural, civil and political - to everyone, everywhere in Scotland, and to encourage best practice in relation to human rights. The Commission fulfils this duty through education, training, guidance, publications, awareness raising and research, as well as by recommending changes to Scottish law, policy and practice. The Commission has legal powers to:

  • conduct inquiries into the policies or practices of Scottish public authorities
  • enter some places of detention as part of an inquiry
  • intervene in civil court cases where relevant to the promotion of human rights and where the case appears to raise a matter of public interest

Equality and Human Rights Commission

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the National Equality Body (NEB) for Scotland, England and Wales, and works to eliminate discrimination and promote equality across the nine protected grounds set out in the Equality Act 2010: age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership, sexual orientation and gender reassignment. It is an "A status" National Human Rights Institution, and shares its mandate to promote and protect human rights in Scotland with the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

As a National Human Rights Institution, the EHRC:

  • promotes understanding of the importance of human rights through teaching, research and public awareness and educational programmes
  • promotes awareness, understanding and protection of human rights and efforts to combat discrimination, especially through use of media channels
  • makes recommendations to Government, Parliament and other competent bodies on existing and proposed laws and processes that will impact on human rights
  • promotes the harmonisation of national law, policy and practice with international human rights law and standards
  • encourages public bodies to comply fully with the Human Rights Act 1998 and cooperate with the UN and other bodies, including by monitoring and reporting on Great Britain's compliance with the core conventions

The EHRC has legal powers to, amongst other things:

  • take legal cases on behalf of individuals or intervene in litigation to test and extend the right to equality and human rights
  • conduct inquiries, investigations and assessments to examine the behaviour of institutions
  • enforce the public sector equality duty, issuing Compliance Notices where it believes the law has been breached
  • provide education and training to make individuals and institutions aware of their rights and responsibilities
  • provide guidance and statutory codes of practice to support individuals and organisations to comply with the law and promote good practice

In Scotland, the SHRC and EHRC have a shared human rights remit. The EHRC covers human rights issues arising from matters reserved to the Westminster Parliament and the SHRC covers issues arising from devolved matters, unless it gives consent for the EHRC to handle them. In practice, the two Commissions work in partnershp on a number of human rights issues.

How Scotland is performing

Scotland Performs measures and reports on the progress of government in Scotland. The National Outcomes describe what we want to achieve over the next 10 years.

National Outcome: We have strong, resilient and supportive communities where people take responsibility for their own actions and how they affect others

National Outcome: We have tackled the significant inequalities in Scottish society

National Outcome: We take pride in a strong, fair and inclusive national identity

National Outcome: Our public services are high quality, continually improving, efficient and responsive to local people's needs

Justice Outcomes