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New Human Rights Bill

Published: 12 Mar 2021 00:01

Four United Nations treaties will be added to Scots law.

Plans to introduce world-leading human rights legislation have been announced by Equalities Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville.

Subject to the outcome of the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary election, a new Human Rights Bill will incorporate four United Nations Human Rights treaties into Scots Law, including legislation that enhances human rights for women, disabled people and minority ethnic communities. The new Bill, which will be introduced in the next parliamentary session will include specific rights, subject to devolved competence, from:

  • the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
  • the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

The National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership, which was set up in December 2018, have also published their final report. In total 30 recommendations have been accepted by the Scottish Government including measures which will, for the first time, improve equality and human rights on an environmental, social, economic and cultural scale.

The recommendations from the taskforce will help underpin the new legislation and builds on previous ambitious human rights work undertaken, helping to put Scotland firmly at the forefront of Human Rights leadership.

Ms Somerville said:

“These recommendations from the taskforce are bold and ambitious. A multi-treaty human rights Bill of this nature, that will also contain a range of others rights on the environment, older people, and access to justice, is unprecedented and will make Scotland a world leader in human rights.

“This new Bill sets out our clear commitment to reducing inequality and advancing the human rights of everyone. It shows our dedication to go further and aim higher to ensure human rights are embedded in every aspect of life in Scotland.

“This ground-breaking human rights framework is going to make a difference, helping people and communities to live with dignity wherever they are in Scotland, and whatever their circumstances.”

Professor Alan Miller, who co-chaired the taskforce with Ms Somerville, said:

“Scotland has become increasingly confident and internationalist throughout the past twenty years of devolution and this set of recommendations clearly shows the next step on its human rights journey.

“Our recommendations are challenging, ambitious and will need continued bold leadership to implement. It would be by far the biggest step taken in Scotland’s human rights journey. This proposed new framework would, for the first time, put in a single place the range of internationally recognised human rights – civil, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental – which belong to everyone.”

Background

National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership Report

The National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership, co-chaired by Ms Somerville and Professor Miller, was established in response to the recommendations made in December 2018 by the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership (FMAG).

This new legislation will build on previous ambitious human rights work undertaken and put Scotland at the forefront of human rights, as well as reaffirming the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Human Rights Act 1998. The intention is to introduce the Bill in the next Parliamentary session. It will include an equality clause that recognises the existing equality framework, devolved competence and protects and promotes the full and equal enjoyment of every single person in Scotland including LGBTI people who are not covered by a specific UN treaty.

The Bill will also help to advance economic, social and cultural rights, and protect the environment, by addressing the right for everyone to have an adequate standard of living, including the right to adequate food, clothing and housing and the continuous improvement of living conditions. It will also address the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. A key consideration, particularly in relation to incorporation of CRPD, will be the current Mental Health Law Review, chaired by John Scott QC.

Alan Miller is Professor of Practice in Human Rights Law at the University of Strathclyde and an Independent Expert with UNDP Crisis Response. He was unanimously elected by the Scottish Parliament as the first Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission and served as Special Envoy of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. Previously he ran a legal aid practice for many years in Castlemilk, Glasgow and was President of the Glasgow Bar Association.