A Human Rights Bill for Scotland: consultation analysis

The independent analysis by Alma Economics of responses to the consultation on A Human Rights Bill for Scotland, commissioned by Scottish Government.

10. Summary of views from public consultation events


This section summarises the key points raised during the 7 Government-led public consultation events, which were held in addition to the consultation between 27 July 2023 and 19 September 2023. In total, there were over 150 attendees at the events, including rights-holders and representatives from public and civil society organisations.

The public consultation events consisted of two parts, focussing on different aspects of the proposals and asking a series of related questions.

Part 1

Question 1a: Do you think new human rights protections are needed?

There was broad support for the Human Rights Bill, emphasising the importance of implementing additional rights protections into law and ensuring accessibility to those currently unable to claim them. Attendees cited the erosion of human rights by the UK Government as a reason for such new protections. There was also a call for cultural change in public services, with an emphasis on compliance duties to drive change and make bodies more accountable.

Attendees expressed concerns about potential inequalities in the implementation of the Human Rights Bill, suggesting that those who vocalise their issues may receive more support than those who remain silent. Some argued that the Human Rights Bill should align with existing policies and legislation, addressing issues such as discrimination against migrants.

Attendees also suggested embedding ECHR rights to ensure protection in Scotland in case the UK Government regresses on these rights. While there was general support for the Bill, concerns were raised about potential confusion between existing and new legislation. Some argued that existing protections, such as the Equality Act 2010 and PSED, are sufficient, and introducing a new Human Rights Bill may lead to confusion. Participants also discussed the need for clarity and awareness regarding the proposed legislation’s scope and impact.

Question 1b: What do you think about the treaties and our approach to incorporation?

Concerns were raised that certain groups, such as refugees and those subject to immigration rules, may not be adequately protected by the new rights. Participants emphasised the need for thorough incorporation of the CRPD, and questioned engagement with the UK Government and existing international law commitments. Clarity on the interaction between Westminster legislation and Scottish Government proposals was requested. Urgency in enforcing duties, especially for people subject to immigration control and individuals with mental health issues, was stressed.

Support was expressed for a duty to comply, with a preference for Human Rights to integrate with existing legislation and duties. Concerns about funding challenges and potential limitations in the procedural duties for equality treaties were also raised.

The importance of creating a human rights culture and raising awareness was highlighted, along with the need for clear definitions and parameters, especially in addressing conflicting rights. Participants also highlighted the importance of involving individuals with lived experience in the development of rights.

Question 1c: What do you think about plans to recognise the right to a healthy environment in law?

Strong support was expressed for the inclusion of the right to a healthy environment, driven by concerns about climate change and accountability for environmental harm. Participants raised concerns about enforcement and access to justice, particularly when private bodies are involved.

Questions were posed about the definition of the right to a healthy environment and whether minimum core obligations would define what a healthy environment is. The importance of making the right accessible and clear in relation to social and economic rights was emphasised. A comparison with Norway's right to a healthy environment, which was noted to be non-enforceable, was also brought up.

There was also broad overall support for the right, with questions about the right’s applicability to the natural environment, as well as potential conflicts with other rights. Some participants raised questions about how the Bill will demand this right from businesses and private actors with significant environmental impacts, especially in reserved areas like energy and oil.

Question 1d: What do you think about our proposals for (i) having basic minimum standards for the right in the Bill and (ii) the requirement for the rights to be fully realised over time?

There was a request for more information on how minimum standards will be developed and what they could entail. Participants discussed what MCOs might look like for different rights, such as health, work, culture, social security, housing, and the environment. They stressed the importance of adopting a staggered approach to commencing duties, allowing public bodies ample time to prepare. Concerns were raised about the absence of clear timelines in the consultation and the need for clarity on when MCOs will be developed and updated. There was also a preference for a participatory approach to developing MCOs, ensuring dignity, and allocating sufficient resources to the process.

Some participants proposed a pilot for the duty to comply, emphasising the importance of shared learning before a national rollout. Others expressed concerns about the limited resources available to public and third-sector organisations to fulfil these rights. There were also concerns that some rights may be fully realised while others may not meet the minimum threshold. Participants also emphasised the importance of setting high minimum standards, particularly for a fairly well-off country like Scotland.

Summary of general comments about Part 1

Participants sought more details on the proposals and requested clarifications regarding funding for public bodies and their integration with existing equality work. Various participants raised questions about delivery timelines, the inclusion of specific groups (such as care-experienced individuals), and potential conflicts with UK legislation.

There were calls for clear definitions, roles and responsibilities for scrutiny bodies, and increased advocacy resources. Concerns about accessibility and understanding at a layman's level were voiced, emphasising the need for clear communication and information regarding decision-making processes.

Some participants highlighted regional disparities and stressed the importance of cultural rights, while others questioned the effectiveness of the Scottish Government in delivering the proposed Bill. Additional concerns included the potential alignment of the Human Rights Bill with the Scottish Constitution. Participants also emphasised the importance of maintaining an independent judiciary for effective accountability under the Human Rights Bill.

Part 2

Question 2a: What do you think needs to happen where something goes wrong, and rights are not upheld?

Participants shared diverse perspectives on addressing rights breaches under the Bill. A primary concern was the need for immediate redress of rights breaches, ensuring dignity regardless of the nature of the violation. Respondents advocated for duty-bearers to address breaches through reviews or meetings, highlighting the importance of establishing timelines for rights-holders to track redress stages. While support for the sufficient interest test was discussed, caution was urged to preserve individuals' right to access courts.

Holding organisations accountable for repeated rights violations and advocating for accessible advocacy services were also prominent points. Prevention strategies, such as upskilling local authorities and centralising human rights information, were emphasised to address issues at the root. The significance of legal redress, affordability, and closing existing legislative loopholes were recurrent themes. Participants also made suggestions for specific resource allocation and the appointment of human rights complaints officers within local authorities.

Respondents emphasised the need for cultural shifts in handling complaints, highlighting the importance of apologies, transparency, and reasonable adjustments for complainants. Discussions included mental health and policing complaints, sector-specific complaint processes, and the role of the Scottish Human Rights Commission. The priority of upholding human rights was stressed, with examples illustrating the consequences of insufficient resources and delays in obtaining remedies. Critical improvements identified included faster complaint responses, increased funding for advocacy organisations, and easier access to legal aid.

Concerns about the affordability of using civil courts were raised. Other topics covered included the distrust of statutory services in certain communities, the potential use of AI technology for case signposting, and the importance of independent advocacy, particularly for neurodiverse individuals. Key support mechanisms identified were ensuring duty-bearers understand their obligations, releasing early guidance, and streamlining the process for individuals.

Question 2b: Who should help resolve the problem and what should they do to help?

Participants emphasised several key points on who should help resolve problems and how they can assist. The most frequently mentioned theme highlighted the need for support in accessing non-judicial and judicial systems, including clear signposting, funding, and defined timelines for escalated complaints. Public bodies required additional resources and frontline staff training to respond effectively to complaints. Another prevalent theme underscored the importance of non-judicial routes, with a preference for support over complex and resource-intensive judicial processes, especially for young people. Suggestions to enhance accountability included building trust in complaints processes, allowing anonymous complaints, and seeking support from organisations like Citizens Space.

The importance of independent advocacy, mediation, and communication between rights-holders and duty-bearers was also emphasised to resolve issues before resorting to court. Concerns about the effectiveness of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) were raised, with calls for improvements, support for public authorities, and the use of mediation. The involvement of practitioners, collaborative working, and the inspection of organisations to ensure compliance featured prominently. The ideas of collective advocacy, peer advocacy, and group advocacy models were also discussed.

A suggestion was made for each authority to have a named person overseeing rights implementation. The potential role of commissioners, such as the proposed Older Person’s Commissioner, was discussed. Participants also proposed allocating higher budgets to civil society organisations to resolve issues via the courts. The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) was suggested to play a role as a critical friend, supporting duty-bearers alongside a regulatory role, and ensuring equitable access to justice, legal aid, and training for court spaces.

Question 2c: What information and support do you think would help you if you have a problem with your rights?

Respondents highlighted the need for widespread awareness and support mechanisms for individuals facing rights-related issues. Key themes included the importance of community-level resources and awareness campaigns to educate people about their rights, the obligations of duty-bearers, and the necessity for public authorities to have publicly available criteria. Participants emphasised the vital role of the third sector and community organisations in raising awareness, calling for increased capacity in these sectors. Specialised advocacy, especially for individuals with specific needs like those living with dementia, mental health issues, environmental justice concerns, and those affected by digital exclusion, was a key focus.

Collaboration between legal, advocacy, and public body services was deemed crucial to streamline processes and minimise bureaucracy. The importance of using plain language, providing accessible information in various formats, and upskilling the workforce to handle complaints effectively were also underscored. Suggestions included creating technology-enabled support, offering free independent advocacy, and utilising platforms like the Human Rights Town app to amplify diverse voices. Additionally, there was a call for trauma-informed strategies, safe spaces, and fully accessible consultation methods to ensure that everyone’s stories are heard.

Summary of general comments about Part 2

Community event participants emphasised a prevailing perception that people view human rights as something distant or unrelated to them, emphasising the importance for the Scottish Government to communicate that the proposed Bill will significantly enhance the legal standing of rights, giving them more impact. There was a call for capacity building on both sides of the duty-bearer/rights-holder spectrum, emphasising education and cultural shifts, particularly at the frontline level, including organisations like nurseries. Concerns were raised about the potential for a tick-box approach to reporting duties and the urgent need for a widespread culture change regarding human rights.

During the community events, discussions also touched on the inclusion of marginalised groups and the potential risk of centralisation in advocacy services for community groups. Lived experience was deemed crucial in government and local authority decision-making. Participants also raised concerns about the challenges of implementing the Bill, especially in rural areas, potential budget reallocation, and the need for capacity building for duty-bearers. Discussions also touched on the need to define the concept of 'reasonableness' and potential risks in the interpretation of cases by individual judges. Additionally, participants discussed the need for resources and e-learning in the public sector.


Email: humanrightsoffice@gov.scot

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