The Human Rights Act and the British Bill of Rights
The Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) came into force in the UK in October 2000.
This means that certain core protections given by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) are part of UK law. So:
- all public organisations, such as hospitals, councils, courts and the police, and other bodies that carry out public functions, must observe the convention rights
- individuals can take human rights cases to UK courts (they no longer have to take them to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg)
Scotland's position on a British Bill of Rights
The UK Government has proposed replacing the HRA with a British Bill of Rights.
We strongly oppose the British Bill of Rights because:
- the HRA already brings the ECHR into UK law
- it is not clear what the benefits of a UK Bill of Rights would be
- the proposed changes have the potential to damage the UK's reputation abroad
We would invite the Scottish Parliament to refuse legislative consent to any attempt to reduce the human rights safeguards in the HRA.
These are protections that have directly benefitted some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Our position is detailed in the speeches and responses below:
- 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
- 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 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."
The European Convention on Human Rights remains embedded within the Scotland Act 1998.
We expect this to continue to be the case under current constitutional arrangements.