The Human Rights Act and the British Bill of Rights
The Human Rights Act
The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) came into force in October 2000. It is one of the principal ways that internationally-recognised human rights are given legal effect in the UK.
The Act means that vitally-important safeguards set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) are available to everyone. In particular:
- all public organisations, such as the government, councils, hospitals, courts and the police, and other bodies that carry out public functions, must act compatibly with the convention rights
- individuals can take human rights cases to UK courts in order to obtain an effective remedy. They can also take them to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, after the national courts have issued a judgment
In Scotland, human rights protections are also built in to the devolution settlement by the Scotland Act.
Legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament is not law if it is incompatible with the rights defined in the HRA. Scottish Government ministers have no power to act in ways that are incompatible with those rights.
UK Human Rights Act review
The UK Government announced in December 2020 that it had set up an independent panel to consider whether changes should be made to the HRA.
The Scottish Government believes that the HRA remains essential and highly-effective in protecting human rights in Scotland and the UK.
The UK must remain fully committed to the ECHR and to membership of the Council of Europe.
Previous threats to the HRA
The UK Government has previously proposed changes to the HRA, including repealing the HRA and replacing it with a British Bill of Rights.
Our position has been detailed in a series of high-profile speeches and responses:
- the First Minister's speech, 'Putting the justice into social justice: how international human rights can deliver progressive change for Scotland', delivered in December 2015
- our response to the Scottish Parliament European and External Relations Committee's request for written evidence, submitted in November 2015
- the First Minister's speech, 'Protecting human rights', delivered at the Pearce Institute in September 2015. Watch the speech
- our response to the UK Government's November 2011 discussion paper, 'Do we need a UK Bill of Rights?'
- our response to the UK Government's additional questions, in September 2012, about a possible UK Bill of Rights
Scottish Parliament support for the HRA
The Scottish Parliament has recorded its support for the HRA.
It passed a motion in support of the Human Rights Act in November 2014, by 100 votes to 10.
In January 2017 the Scottish Parliament passed a motion calling on the UK Government to avoid actions that weaken international human rights. The motion, which passed by 93 votes to 30, specifically called upon the UK Government to:
"give an undertaking not to take, or propose, any action that weakens or undermines participation in... international human rights mechanisms, including in particular the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights, and records [the] opposition [of the Scottish Parliament] to any loss in Scotland of the human rights, equality, social protection and other safeguards and standards enshrined in EU law and set out in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights."