Human Rights Bill: letter outlining next steps

Letter thanking those who responded to consultation on proposals for a new Human Rights Bill for Scotland, and outlining next steps.

Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Shirley-Anne Somervile
Minister for Equalities, Migration & Refugees, Emma Roddick

As outlined in the 2023/24 Programme for Government, we have committed to introducing a Human Rights Bill for Scotland during the current parliamentary year. We recently consulted on policy proposals for a Bill, and the consultation closed on 5 October. In terms of next steps, the responses received will now be carefully analysed to help inform the development of the Bill. A consultation analysis report will be published in the coming months on the Scottish Government’s website at Scottish Government consultations - Citizen Space, and further communication will be issued once this is available.

We would like to personally thank the individuals and organisations that took the time to respond to our public consultation, to meet with Ministers and the Bill Team, and to attend one of our in person and online engagements during the consultation period. Almost 400 responses were received from a wide range of stakeholders, including members of the public, civil society organisations, academics, as well as public and private sector organisations. We appreciate the time and effort taken to respond to the consultation by those who did so. We are particularly grateful to those organisations who worked so hard to organise events themselves and to facilitate the voices of those often less heard in these kinds of processes.

Please be assured that the consultation closing is by no means the end of our engagement on the Bill and we look forward to continued work with you throughout the process of the Bill’s development. In particular, our Bill Executive and Advisory Boards will continue to meet regularly, alongside specific and targeted engagement with key stakeholders and groups.

As you know, incorporating four different international treaties into Scots law within the limits of devolved competence in a way that creates accessible and coherent law is a complex and technical endeavour. If agreed by Parliament, the Bill will be a significant milestone in Scotland’s human rights journey, placing Scotland at the forefront of human rights legislation and practice. The Bill will bring benefits to everyone in Scotland, helping to ensure that people are treated with dignity and that the needs of those who are most marginalised and disadvantaged are met. We want your help to make sure that we get this right, and we appreciate your continued engagement and support in that endeavour.

Of course, the development and introduction of the Bill is just one staging post in our journey towards making Scotland a progressive leader in the promotion and protection of human rights. The Bill will seek to bring a further range of international human rights into Scots law within the limits of devolved competence and make those justiciable for rights holders; that is undoubtably a critical and significant step towards making rights real for people. However, there is much work ahead of us to ensure that doing so translates into the continued development of a human rights culture across public services and delivers a genuine step change in Scotland’s approach to human rights. This will not happen overnight and will require all our continued focus and effort to make a reality.

Moving forward, we are committed to developing a participatory process to establish minimum core obligations in relation to the rights in the Bill, in advance of provisions being fully commenced. We have already begun preparations for implementation through the establishment of a working group to consider aspects of accountability through reporting, information and awareness raising, capacity building and monitoring progress. Subject to the Bill being passed, work will be required to ensure that these considerations are translated into practical steps that help to ensure that rights holders are empowered to claim their rights, that duty bearers are enabled to deliver the ambitions of the framework, and that the right accountability mechanisms are in place and working well so that duty bearers can be held to account for progress. And where infringements do occur, work will be required to support access to justice for rights holders in a way that delivers an effective remedy, resolves issues and ensures that improvements are made.

We are clear that this wider work needs to happen over a sustained period of time in order to deliver the ambitions of the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership, along with the important findings of our Lived Experience Board who have highlighted, in compelling terms, the challenges they have experienced in claiming their rights. Getting this right offers a significant opportunity for Scotland to demonstrate human rights leadership globally, and we look forward to continuing to work collaboratively to ensure the Bill delivers practical and effective changes to make rights real for people in Scotland.

Thank you again for your contribution to the consultation, and we look forward to working with you in the coming months and years to build a Scotland where human rights are increasingly fulfilled for all the people of Scotland.

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