Section One – Setting The Scene
What is the purpose of this guide?
The Scottish Government is planning to bring a new Human Rights Bill to the Scottish Parliament, so that more of our human rights are protected in law.
This guide explains what we want the Human Rights Bill to achieve. It sets out what it will mean for these rights to be placed in law in Scotland. It also describes what effect we want the Bill to have on people's daily lives if the Scottish Parliament votes to pass the Bill and it becomes an Act.
We have launched a consultation so that people can learn about the Bill and tell the Scottish Government what they think.
This guide was made to help everyone feel able to take part in the consultation. We want to hear your voice so that it helps shape the future of human rights in Scotland.
What is being proposed?
We all have human rights. We should be able to access our rights in daily life. If our human rights are not respected, we should be able to do something about this by making a complaint, alerting an appropriate body, or taking legal action if appropriate.
The Scottish Government's proposed Human Rights Bill will bring four United Nations international human rights treaties into the law in Scotland, within the limits of the Scottish Parliament's devolved powers.
The Bill will also recognise and include the right to a healthy environment.
The Bill will be designed to make sure the rights it sets out in Scots law are available to everyone equally.
Why introduce a Human Rights Bill now?
Since devolution, Scottish Ministers have worked to respect, protect, and fulfil internationally recognised human rights in Scotland.
The Human Rights Bill is the next stage in Scotland's journey to make more of our fundamental human rights real for everyone in their day-to-day lives.
Recent events, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis have shown that people still sometimes have unequal access to their rights. We believe there is more we can do to address this.
That is why the Human Rights Bill will create a new human rights framework in Scotland. The Bill will provide people with stronger legal protections, put new duties on public bodies, and help to build a stronger human rights culture in Scotland.
Don't we already have human rights?
All human beings are entitled to human rights and freedoms.
The Scottish Government already works to create a society where all our human rights are upheld.
We are doing this by building human rights into the day-to-day business of government.
The Scottish Ministerial Code also requires Scottish Ministers to follow international law such as human rights treaty obligations.
Since the end of World War Two, members of the United Nations have agreed to a series of international treaties that set out what our fundamental human rights are, and how countries should work to realise them.
Over the years the UK has signed up to ('ratified') many of these treaties. This means that the Scottish Government must ensure it respects, protects, and fulfils all the human rights found in these treaties.
The rights in these treaties exist in what is known as 'international law'. International law is different from our domestic law in Scotland. Bringing rights from international law into our domestic law will improve rights protection.
For example, the Human Rights Act 1998 brought the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into law in the UK. This means that our civil and political human rights can be enforced by courts in Scotland if they are not being protected.
However, some internationally-recognised human rights – like the right to health or to an adequate standard of living – are not yet set out in Scots law. This means people don't have the same routes to access justice if those rights are not upheld.
It means public bodies and private organisations delivering public services in Scotland do not always have to show how their decisions helped to make those rights real for the people they work with or serve.
Also, public bodies cannot be held to account in court or by regulators if they fail to take actions to uphold these human rights or take actions which undermine rights.
Public bodies provide services that people use every day to access their rights.
Local councils provide lots of services that help ensure we have an adequate standard of living. NHS Scotland is a public body that helps deliver services which provide elements of the right to health. Schools help deliver services which provide the right to education.
Private organisations also help deliver public services. For example, there are businesses that deliver social care, as well as education.
The Human Rights Bill will bring more rights into Scots law. It aims to ensure that economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights will be protected for the people of Scotland, similar to how our civil and political rights are already protected.
This means public bodies and private organisations delivering public services in Scotland can be held to account if they are found to have taken actions that fail to uphold people's rights.
How did the Scottish Government decide what the Human Rights Bill should do?
In 2018 the former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP asked human rights experts in Scotland to form an Advisory Group on Human Rights. They were asked to explore how Scotland could better protect and promote human rights.
Their report called for an Act of the Scottish Parliament to create a new Human Rights Bill for Scotland. They also called for the creation of a special Taskforce to set out what the new Bill should deliver.
The National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership was formed in 2019. It included human rights academics and human rights experts from civil society. The Taskforce met with lots of different groups with an interest in human rights.
In 2021 the Taskforce published 30 recommendations and Scottish Ministers accepted these in full.
Using these recommendations, the Scottish Government has developed plans for the Human Rights Bill. The consultation sets out these plans and invites people to tell us what they think.
The Scottish Government worked with civil society groups, public authorities, and people with lived experience of trying to access their human rights, to develop these plans.
Does the Scottish Human Rights Bill have anything to do with the Bill of Rights which was proposed by the UK Government?
The Human Rights Bill we are consulting on will only apply to policy areas devolved in Scotland.
The Human Rights Act 1998 is about civil and political rights protected by the ECHR. Only the UK Parliament has the power to change that Act.
The Scottish Government's Human Rights Bill is about the economic, social, and cultural rights in United Nations human rights treaties, as well as the right to a healthy environment. It is also about specific protections for women, disabled people, and people and groups who experience racism.
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