Defending the Human Rights Act

Current law must be protected.

The Scottish Government will strongly oppose any attempt to weaken the UK Human Rights Act, Equalities and Human Rights Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville has said.

In a detailed evidence submission to the UK Independent Human Rights Review, which was established by the UK Government to review the Human Rights Act, the Scottish Government makes clear that:

  • no changes to the Human Rights Act should be made which have the effect of weakening or removing existing safeguards
  • there must be no changes to the Human Rights Act without the consent of the Scottish Parliament
  • the United Kingdom must remain a full signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights and a member of the Council of Europe

Ms Somerville said: 

“The Human Rights Act is one of the most important and successful pieces of legislation ever passed by the UK Parliament. It has protected the rights of people throughout the UK for over two decades. All of Scotland’s public authorities have a legal duty to act compatibly with the rights set out in the Act.

“Our submission to the Review highlights the impact that any changes to the Act could have in eroding human rights. The Act is at the heart of Scotland’s devolved constitutional arrangements. No changes that would impact on Scotland should be made without the explicit consent of the Scottish Parliament.

“Far from attacking the Human Rights Act, the UK Government should instead follow our lead in Scotland. The focus needs to be on extending and enhancing the way human rights and equality are put into practice, in a way that benefits every member of society.

“A bill to make the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child part of Scots law is currently in the Scottish Parliament and our National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership will report shortly.”


 Read the Scottish Government’s submission to the UK Human Rights Act Review.

 The Bill to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law  is scheduled to begin Stage 3 (the final stage of parliamentary consideration) on 16 March.

Individuals throughout the UK can rely on the Human Rights Act 1998 in order to challenge the decisions and actions of public authorities.  The rights set out in the Human Rights Act are also built in to the devolution settlement by the Scotland Act 1998.

The UK review was announced in December and has been asked to report in Summer 2021.

All public authorities (including the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament) have a legal duty to act compatibly with rights set out in the Human Rights Act. These rights are themselves derived from the European Convention on Human Rights. The UK was instrumental in developing the Convention in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and was the first state to ratify the Convention in 1951.

The UK Government has proposed the repeal and/or replacement of the Human Rights Act on several occasions.  In 2011/12 it set up a Commission on a UK Bill of Rights to develop proposals.  In 2015, the newly elected Conservative administration promised to “scrap” the Act but was subsequently forced to abandon the commitment. One of the effects of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 which provided the legislative basis for EU Exit was to disapply the closely-related protections provided by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.


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