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.

1. Introduction

Human rights are the foundation of just and equitable societies, safeguarding the dignity and freedom of all individuals. The Scottish Government’s commitment to introducing a new Human Rights Bill before the end of the 2023-24 parliamentary year will be a significant step forward in Scotland’s ongoing efforts to strengthen and protect human rights.[12] At the core of the international understanding of human rights lie three foundational texts, collectively forming what is known as the ‘International Bill of Human Rights’. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, was the first international acknowledgement of universal rights, spanning civil, political, economic, and cultural domains. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) also form the International Bill of Rights, both signed and ratified by the UK.

The rights articulated in the International Bill of Rights were incorporated at a regional level through the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which was ratified by the UK in 1951. The UK played a noteworthy role in developing the ECHR. The main rights protected by the ECHR include “the right to life, the right to a fair hearing, the right to respect for private and family life, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the protection of property”. Subsequently, these rights were incorporated into UK law through the Human Rights Act 1998, empowering UK courts to address human rights cases. To supplement the Human Rights Act 1998, the Equality Act 2010 was introduced to protect people from ‘discrimination in the workplace and in wider society’.

The Scotland Act 1998, which established the Scottish Parliament and its devolved powers, wove human rights protections into the Scottish legal framework. Notably, this Act allows for the overturning of Scottish laws that contravene ECHR rights and mandates Scottish Ministers to operate within the bounds of these rights. The establishment of the Scottish Human Rights Commission in 2008 further emphasises Scotland's enduring dedication to safeguarding human rights. In 2018, an independent Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership was established to examine the impact of Brexit on human rights in Scotland. The Group suggested the establishment of a National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership which, in 2021, made several recommendations to further protect human rights domestically. The Taskforce recommended the creation of a new statutory human rights framework for Scotland. The Scottish Government responded to the recommendations of the Taskforce by committing to introduce a new Human Rights Bill for Scotland during the current 2021-26 parliamentary session.

The proposed Human Rights Bill aims to ‘bring internationally recognised human rights into Scots law’. It is proposed that the Bill takes a direct treaty text approach as it seeks to incorporate the ICESCR, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Bill aims to enhance existing human rights and equality protections by using the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament to ensure that all rights-holders in Scotland can understand and claim their international human rights domestically. To achieve this, the Bill seeks to create a clear, robust, and accessible legal framework that places a set of specific duties on those delivering devolved public functions. Among other goals, the Human Rights Bill aims to guarantee the enjoyment of rights without discrimination through an equality provision, recognise the right to a healthy environment and provide accessible avenues to remedy when rights are not upheld. It also includes specific rights for women, disabled people and people experiencing racism. The Bill hopes to foster a human rights culture, placing rights at the centre of decision-making so that everyone can live with dignity.

To inform the development of the Bill, the Scottish Government conducted a consultation that sought to inform the public about the proposed Bill and provide an avenue for feedback. The consultation launched on 15 June 2023 and ended on 5 October 2023. It posed 52 questions with a mixture of open and closed-answer questions. There were 7 Scottish Government-led public consultation events carried out, each with two breakout discussion sessions.

Rigorous independent analysis of responses to consultations is central to evidence-based policymaking and will assist the Scottish Government as it continues to develop proposals for a new Human Rights Bill. The aim of this project was to conduct a transparent, rigorous, and systematic analysis of valid responses to the Human Rights Bill for Scotland consultation. This report is a balanced and impartial presentation of the analysis, ensuring that the full range and nature of views are presented.


Email: humanrightsoffice@gov.scot

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