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A Human Rights Law for Scotland

The Jimmy Reid Foundation has published a paper prompted by the Scottish Government’s consultation proposals to introduce a Human Rights Bill for Scotland on devolved matters.

In the paper, we accept that the Scottish Government is carving a distinctive path to advance human rights law by expanding domestic delivery of United Nations’ global standards at a time when the UK Government is seeking to limit and curtail rights as well as their enforcement. Scotland’s distinctive approach is welcomed, but it is imperative that the current proposals are strengthened to ensure duties are upheld daily, and rights are enforced when duty-bearers fail to comply. Positive words in inadequate legislation will fail to create the architecture of cultural, policy, funding and service changes to make a significant impact.

The proposed Bill builds on existing law and makes an impact by changing culture, practice and outcomes. Resources will be needed to make that happen and ensure that people have access to an effective remedy. Giving representation and enforcement powers to the SHRC will be key and addresses the advice and representation deficit created in 2006 as the EHRC has always been able to take up cases for people, although is limited given its funding from the UK Government.

Scotland’s distinctive approach needs to make a distinctive impact, and that requires cultural change as well as operational and financial decisions to ensure the spending of public money is human rights complaint. Legal change in isolation is insufficient to make Scotland fairer. We also argue that integrating all strands of human rights work and linking them to current initiatives such as Fair Work is essential to provide a strategic focus, delivery and evaluation of a distinctive Human Rights Law in Scotland covering the public, private and third sectors.

Jimmy Reid Foundation supporters are not ‘silent in the face of injustice’. Fifty-one years on, it remains true that “A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings.” Ensuring that people and their families live in dignity, are treated fairly and with respect through human rights standards is a shared responsibility, so securing a robust human rights law is essential for human justice.