United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child implementation: introductory guidance

Non-statutory guidance developed in partnership with public authorities and the third sector, introducing key concepts within the UNCRC and links with further resources for embedding a children’s rights-based approach in public services.

UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

Since the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by the UK Government in 1991, the UK has been under an obligation in international law to comply with it, but children and young people across the UK have not been able to go to court to enforce their rights directly.

On 1 September 2020, the UNCRC Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament. The purpose of the Bill was to bring the UNCRC into Scots law and to put in place measures to achieve a culture of everyday accountability for children's rights across public services in Scotland. The UNCRC Bill would make Scotland the first country in the UK, and the first devolved nation in the world, to directly incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law. It would make it unlawful for public authorities to act incompatibly with the incorporated UNCRC requirements, giving children, young people and their representatives the power to go to court to enforce their rights.

The UNCRC Bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament on 16 March 2021, but could not be made law because of a legal challenge brought by UK Government Law Officers. The Supreme Court has now ruled that certain parts of the Bill fall outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Government is committed to protecting the rights of children and young people and remains committed to the incorporation of the UNCRC to the maximum extent possible, as soon as practicable. We are urgently and carefully considering the implications of the judgment and how best to take that work forward. However, the vast majority of work needed to progress UNCRC implementation can and is continuing.

This non-statutory introductory guidance on implementing the UNCRC is being made available now, as we consider the judgment.

"Incorporation will mean protections that need to be guaranteed and safety for children and young people. It is easier to look at a written document that says that these are the things I should have, rather than kind of guessing what you think you should have. This is empowering for me as a young person."

Young person's response to SG Consultation on UNCRC incorporation

What does the Bill aim to do?

Ministers are carefully considering the Supreme Court judgment, and the implications for the UNCRC Bill. If the UNCRC Bill proceeds, some of the provisions will need to be revisited. The Bill, as passed by the Scottish Parliament on 16 March 2021, says that:

  • Public authorities will not be allowed to act in a way which is incompatible with the UNCRC requirements.
  • Children, young people, and their representatives will have the power to go to court to enforce their rights.
  • Courts will have powers to decide if legislation is compatible with the UNCRC requirements.
  • Existing legislation will have to be read in a way which is compatible with the UNCRC requirements wherever possible.
  • Scottish Government will be able to change laws to make sure they are compatible with the UNCRC requirements.
  • The Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland and Scottish Human Rights Commission will have powers to take legal action to protect children's rights.
  • Scottish Government will have to publish a Children's Rights Scheme to show how it is meeting the UNCRC requirements and explain its future plans to progress children's rights.
  • Scottish Government will have to review how the Children's Rights Scheme is working each year.
  • Other authorities listed in the Bill will have to report every three years on what they are doing to meet the UNCRC requirements.


Email: UNCRCIncorporation@gov.scot

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