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.

In its response to the review, the Scottish Government has made clear that any attempt to erode or undermine the HRA would be robustly opposed. A summary of the response is available.

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:

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."