National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership: agenda and minutes - 18 November 2020

Minutes from the November 2020 meeting of the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership.

Attendees and apologies

Taskforce Attendees

  • Shirley-Anne Somerville - Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People
  • Christina McKelvie - Minister for Older People and Equalities
  • Professor Alan Miller – Independent Co-Chair
  • Professor Elisa Morgera – Co-Director of Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance
  • Councillor Kelly Parry – Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA)
  • Judith Robertson – Chair, Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Mhairi Snowden - Co-ordinator, Human Rights Consortium Scotland
  • Murray Hunt - Barrister specialising in Human Rights, and Legal Adviser to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Rule of Law

Guest Attendees

  • Ellen Birt – UNCRC Bill Team Leader
  • Kavita Chetty – Scottish Human Rights Commission
  • Mirren Kelly – COSLA
  • Lynn Welsh – Equality and Human Rights Commission

Scottish Government Attendees

  • Lisa Bird – Deputy Director for Equality and Human Rights Division
  • Elisabeth Campbell – Strategic Lead, Human Rights
  • Cristina Dello Sterpaio – Human Rights Taskforce Team Leader
  • Joseph McKeown – Secretariat to the National Taskforce
  • Shumirai Mhonda-Kapora – Secretariat to the National Taskforce
  • Fraser Meechan – Secretariat to the National Taskforce
  • Ciar Nixon – Secretariat to the National Taskforce
  • Julia McCombie – Joint Bill Team Leader
  • Emily Hines – Deputy Bill Team Leader
  • Daniel Garraghan – Bill Team
  • Alice Greig – Bill Team
  • Afson Barekat – Head of Rights Branch, Scottish Government Legal Directorate (SGLD)
  • Victoria Morton – SGLD
  • Ben Gaston – SGLD


  • Paul Johnston – Director General, Education, Communities and Justice, Scottish Government
  • Alastair Pringle – Executive Director Corporate Delivery and Scotland, Equality and Human Rights Commission
  • Fiona Killen – Solicitor, Law Society of Scotland,
  • Nils Muižnieks – Former Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe
  • Claire Sweeney – Director for Place and Wellbeing, Public Health Scotland

Items and actions

1. Welcome and Pre-Cleared Papers

1.1      Cabinet Secretary welcomed attendees and noted the busy agenda stating that it presented an opportunity to get through a lot during the meeting. She also noted that Ellen Birt would be joining the meeting later to give an update on the UNCRC Bill and share lessons learned.

1.2      It was noted that the Taskforce’s Action Log, Mid-Level Comms Plan and Minutes from the last meeting had been cleared in advance.

2. Public engagement

2.1      Professor Miller gave an update on the work to establish Reference Groups on Women, Disability and Race. He advised attendees that the inaugural meeting of the Women’s Reference Group is scheduled for the 14th of December. He noted that work on the Disability Reference Group was near completion. He explained that the Race Reference is progressing well. He also noted that he had had a productive meeting earlier in the week with Anastasia Crickley, former Chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

2.2      Professor Miller also gave updates on the Public Sector Reference Group which is scheduled to meet on the 15th of December and the Civil Society Reference Group which is likely to meet in January. 

2.3      Regarding the second round of public engagement, Professor Miller advised that work was underway to secure dates for roundtables. He advised that the older persons roundtable is scheduled for the 4th of December and he hoped that Professor Busby’s would verbally update members on her paper on rights of Older Persons. He also noted that following a successful meeting with Audit Scotland, he hoped a Scrutiny Bodies Roundtable would be held in January.

3. Political Engagement

3.1      Professor Miller gave an update of the Political engagement work he is undertaking, noting that the meetings he has had have been positive and there is wide support for the work the Taskforce.

4. Public Engagement Project

4.1      Mhairi Snowden gave an update on the Human Rights Consortium Scotland Public Engagement project stating that there has been good and positive engagement thus far. She noted that the work has been met with great enthusiasm and 14 organisations are involved and are having conversations with their service users. Many other organisations considering getting involved with the project. She also advised that the project was looking for more ways to engage with older persons and asked attendees for suggestions and assistance on this.

4.2      Mhairi noted that through the project, they are gathering new information that must be taken into consideration. She noted that access to justice is a recurring theme, with participants not just wanting affordable access to justice but also easy routes to solutions. Mhairi stated that emerging themes will be pulled together and shared in due course.

4.3      Mhairi advised that the project was planning an event to celebrate human rights on human rights day (10 December).

4.4      When asked about what engagement the project had with young people, Mhairi advised that the Scottish Youth Parliament is involved and was holding conversations with young people. Furthermore, four webinars with specific child groups were being planned.

5. Executive Board Update

5.1      The Minister began by thanking the Taskforce of the work being done and the pace at which it is being taken forward.

5.2      The Minister gave an update on the Executive Board noting that the approach taken to membership had adapted to the ongoing pandemic. She explained that the membership had been finalised and is wide reaching to reflect the scope of the framework. The Minister advised that invitations would be sent out shortly with the inaugural meeting anticipated at the beginning of next year. The Minister also advised that Mirren Kelly and Kavita Chetty are among those to be invited to join the group.

5.3      The Minister noted that the Programme Office have drafted Terms of Reference for the Executive Board to ensure that the Board avoids duplication of work of the Taskforce. The Programme Office will share the ToR with Taskforce. 

5.4      It was suggested that human rights resourcing should be discussed at the first Executive Board meeting. The Programme office to discuss this with Paul Johnston and will update the Taskforce in due course.

6. UNCRC Update

6.1      Professor Miller thanked Ellen Birt for attending today’s meeting to share with the Taskforce the lessons learnt from the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Bill process.

6.2      Ellen gave an update on the UNCRC Bill process, noting that while there was no blue print on how to deliver rights for children, Ministers supported a maximalist approach. Ellen explained that it was considered fundamentally important for the  text of the UNCRC to be incorporated into the UNCRC Bill i.e. a direct approach to incorporation (as far as possible within the Parliament’s powers). She also noted that incorporation is not the end of road, stating that there will likely be legislative work and policy that stems from the Bill.

6.3      Ellen discussed the challenges presented by devolution noting that rights that relate to reserved matters could not be incorporated as they fall outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. She also noted that if the Scottish Government had unlimited competence, the policy preference would have been to include a strike down power for all legislation, past and future. However, the Scottish Government concluded that a strike down power in relation to future legislation would alter the powers of Parliament was therefore out with the Scottish Parliament’s powers. However, strike down powers can still be applied to legislation that pre-dates the Bill.

6.4      Regarding access to justice provisions, Ellen explained that the UNCRC Bill puts great emphasis on effective decision making, transparency and accountability and as such it is hoped remedy through the courts should be the last resort. The Children’s Rights Scheme will make it a requirement for Ministers to report on steps taken to fulfil the compatibility duty in the Bill. There is interest amongst stakeholders in amendments to expand the list of things to be included in the Scheme including in relation to access to justice.

6.5      Ellen also explained that the UNCRC Bill team had given consideration to including dual duties - a duty to pay due regard and a duty to comply. However, it was considered that this could lead to lack of clarity and confusion. Furthermore, as there is limited jurisprudence relating to UNCRC, it was concluded that the duty adopted should be one that public authorities and the Courts have previously interpreted and are familiar with. A duty not to act incompatibly is a duty familiar to the Courts because of the Human Rights Act. 

6.7      Professor Miller thanked Ellen for the update and noted that there would be another opportunity to discuss these issues in detail at the next Working Group meeting. Professor Miller encouraged members to email their questions to the Programme Office in advance of the meeting.

7. Decision-Making Timeline

7.1      The Cabinet Secretary noted the importance of establishing how to utilise Taskforce meetings to develop thinking and make sure there is enough time to make decisions.

7.2      The Programme Office gave an overview of the new Decision Making Timeline noting that it builds on conversations from the last meeting. They stated that the Timeline is an iterative document to be updated as work of Taskforce progresses.

7.3      The Programme Office also explained that by identifying dates for when decisions should be made, it allows time to gather further evidence. They further stated that while Taskforce meetings are where decisions should formally be taken and recorded,  Working Group meetings are essential forums for holding key discussions on complex issues that will allow for decisions to be made.

7.4      It was agreed that the Taskforce needs to take into consideration the information gathered during its programmes of engagement before decisions are made. The importance of framing decisions against policy objectives was also highlighted and agreed upon.

7.5      Professor Miller asked the Programme Office to arrange supplementary Taskforce meetings in February to allow more opportunity for discussions and decision making.

8. AOB

8.1      The Cabinet Secretary advised that she is unavailable to attend the next Taskforce meeting on the 10th of December as she has a committee appearance in the Scottish Parliament  the same day. She further advised that the Minister would Co-Chair the meeting with Professor Miller.

8.2      The Cabinet Secretary thanked all attendees for their attendance and contributions and brought the meeting to a close.


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