Human Rights Bill Governance and Engagement Executive Board minutes: August 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the Executive Board on 10 August 2021.

Attendees and apologies


  • Andy McDowall, Police Scotland 
  • Amelia Morgan, Scottish Canals 
  • Angela Leitch, PHS
  • Caroline Lamb, DG H&SC and NHS Scotland
  • Chris McCoy-Lavery, Visit Scotland
  • Emma Campbell, Scottish Water
  • James Dunphy, Scottish Funding Council
  • Jim Savege, SOLACE
  • John McMorris, SQA 
  • Kavita Chetty, SHRC
  • Mirren Kelly, COSLA 
  • Paul Johnston, Scottish Government
  • Sally Louden, COSLA
  • Teresa Medhurst, Scottish Prison Service

Scottish Government:

  • Alyson Mitchell
  • Joseph McKeown
  • Ciar Nixon
  • Gill McCrum
  • Afson Barekat
  • Ben Gaston
  • Louise Halpin
  • Sinead Power
  • Sara Hampson


  • Madhu Malhotra, Scottish Government
  • Catherine Topley, NDPB Forum
  • Julia Stevenson, Scottish Water
  • Fiona Robertson, SQA
  • Alan Spiers, Police Scotland
  • Diane McGiffen, Audit Scotland
  • Peter Macleod, Care Inspectorate

Items and actions

Welcome, introductions and apologies 

Paul Johnston welcomed attendees to the second meeting of the Human Rights Executive Board (EB), noting work had been done since the last meeting. 

Attendees introduced themselves, noting apologies and who they were deputising for where EB members were unavailable.  

Acknowledge minute, action log and review actions from the first meeting 

The secretariat noted that the minutes of the first EB meeting has been sent to members prior to today’s meeting and had been cleared by attendees. The secretariat also noted there were two actions carried over from the inaugural meeting, with work progressing on these actions. Lastly, the secretariat highlighted that the updated Terms of Reference (ToR) had likewise been circulated with amendments to the ToR based on the comments from the inaugural meeting noted. 

Paul Johnston outlined the aims of the group, as defined in the Terms of Reference. Members felt that there was a shared obligation to provide support, and this could be included in the ToR to reflect a collective responsibility.

Participants felt there was also a role in terms of ensuring that community planning partnerships are all collectively and equally  aware of their responsibilities, as opposed to as oppose to each having a different individual understanding. It was further noted that the Community Planning Improvement Board Improvement Service could be made use of to achieve this. The Board also discussed whether there could be a role for a development body that was able to help organisations meet their human rights goals with advice and improvement. 

It was noted the EB should have an ambition to be a forum for collective leadership on human rights that will engage with other forums and groups to maximise its reach and impact. SG officials will draft an amendment to the Terms of Reference to give effect to this 

Covid recovery discussion 

Paul Johnston noted the significant developments since the election, primarily with regard to the Deputy First Minister’s portfolio responsibility for COVID recovery as well as international treaties, giving him a specific interest in the Human Rights Bill, as well as Ms Robison’s portfolio responsibilities, as Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government. It was noted that participants felt that there was a collective responsibility for members to make connections with the new Government.

Paul Johnston gave an update on the Scottish Government’s current position on COVID recovery. Alyson Mitchell, from the Scottish Government COVID Recovery directorate was introduced and it was highlighted that the Scottish Government (SG) was keen to share the work that they were developing with group members as soon as available. 

The opportunity to have a uniquely Scottish approach to service was discussed, with members noting that the building blocks for this were in place, and the question was making sure there was good alignment across public services. Participants felt that ensuring cultural change across society was a key part in the success of the Bill.

The implications of COVID recovery and the digitisation of services was discussed. Members highlighted the advances in digital connectivity of schools and universities, and wondered what the ‘return to normality’ would entail, and whether the use of technology could help meet individual support needs, in a rights-based way, as opposed to solely as a temporary COVID emergency way. 

The importance to recognising how COVID learning could influence the human rights leadership agenda was discussed, including the importance of recognising which temporary COVID responses may in fact be better to continue, with new inroads into human rights development possibly being highlighted by COVID recovery. It was also mentioned the Expert Reference Group on COVID and Ethnicity was instructive, and noted that the human rights-based response to COVID could be seen as a progress of necessity that can be instructive in taking things forward. 

Update on Human Rights Bill progress

Officials began by flagging the UNCRC Bill court case at the Supreme Court where a judgment is awaited, and recognised that this could potentially have implications for the Human Rights Bill. Officials explained that they were working closely with UNCRC colleagues, and the Scottish Government are aware of the connections between the work.

Options for dates in the coming year for consultation on policy proposals for the Human Rights Bill were discussed. The importance of public participation was noted with there being wider opportunities for the public to engage with the work outside formal consultations, with details to follow in due course.

Discussion: priorities, challenges and opportunities for the Human Rights Bill 

Officials introduced this topic, highlighting the importance of touching on relevant recommendations from the Taskforce report. It was noted the Taskforce had recommended a multi-institutional approach. Members were asked to draw on their own experience to contribute under four themes: duties relating to the rights, further duties/rights, guidance, and support. 

Members welcomed the possibility of a duty of progressive realisation, and queried whether there were opportunities to consider coordinated progressive realisation across the public sector rather than free play progressive realisation. The importance of setting out in advance how coordinated or open-ended the approach should be was highlighted in addition to who is responsible for that approach. Members felt a collaborative approach to participation may put pressure on third-sector organisations, so SG have a responsibility to collaborate and share learning.

There was support among members for the proposed participative method in identifying the definition of minimum core rights, and it was noted that there were opportunities for a collective multi-agency approach to this, as opposed to separate, parallel work. 

Participants reiterated the importance of human rights-based budgeting and budget analysis. Members also felt there was a lack of transparency around data with regards to allowing human rights-based budgeting. 

Attendees felt that given yesterday’s IPCC report, the environment should be a highlight of any human rights framework. 

Participants noted the importance of recognising the public’s expectations, and how to make them feel more confident in their rights, concluding that any human rights engagement needs to be meaningful. Attendees also noted the importance of articulating what this framework means for an individual. 

It was also noted that one of the biggest challenges in implementation is that some of the standards in the international treaties (such as Article 12 ICESCR – the right to enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health) could be seen as unachievable at this moment in time. It was noted that this emphasises the needs for public bodies to move away from a reactive responsive approach, and be more involved in a preventative and proactive approach. The need to be clear in what the gap is between what services can currently provide and what, by law, services may be required to provide, and how the gulfs can be bridged in order to prevent breakdowns in the system was also highlighted.

Participants felt that in some cases priority seemed to have to be given to reporting on rights-based work, as opposed to actually bringing in innovative rights-based approaches to issues, and hoped that the framework would not require similar performative behaviour, and hoped for consistency across organisations.


Paul Johnston thanked attendees for their time, and added that he looked forward to the next meeting of the Executive Board. 


  • amendments to be made to the terms of reference to set out a function of the group as a forum for collective leadership on human rights that will engage with other forums and groups to maximise its reach and impact
  • terms of reference to be updated in paragraph 4 to reflect that the Scottish Parliament elections have concluded
  • implications of the UK Supreme Court UNCRC case to be discussed once there has been a judgment
Back to top