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Submission on a UK Bill of Rights

Date: 14 November 2011

The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has emphatically rejected the proposal of a UK Bill of Rights. This was the primary question posed in the consultation process of the UK Government appointed Commission of Inquiry on a Bill of Rights, which closed on Friday (11 November).

Key points made by SHRC to the Commission on a Bill of Rights include:

  • There is a definite need to retain and build upon the Human Rights Act. It should not be substituted by a weaker UK Bill of Rights which makes government less accountable to the public. To ensure practical and effective implementation of the European Convention of Human Rights all of the human rights contained in the Human Rights Act and all of the mechanisms within the Act should be retained - not weakened.

  • The status quo is not acceptable either. SHRC’s recommendation is that all of the UK’s international human rights obligations are incorporated into domestic law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is overdue. These protections for the public are all the more necessary in the present times of austerity when budgetary decisions need to be made in ways which do not disproportionately impact upon the most vulnerable in our community.

  • In addition to retaining the Human Rights Act, SHRC is promoting a more forward and outward looking approach of engaging with the public, Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government in shaping Scotland’s National Action Plan for human rights. This will be a practical roadmap to progressively bring the living experience of all, particularly the most vulnerable, up to the standards of the international human rights legal obligations already ratified by the UK.

Read the full submission in Word format.

Watch evidence to the Justice Committee (6 December 2011) on a UK Bill of Rightsfrom BBC Democracy Live - video

Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission said: “The current political climate concerning human rights, resulting in part from unsubstantiated attacks by UK Government Ministers on the Human Rights Act, means there are unfavourable conditions for a proper consultation on a UK Bill of Rights. Substituting a weaker Bill of Rights for the Human Rights Act is primarily intended to restrain our courts and make government less accountable to the public and to its international legal obligations.”

“Especially in these times of budget cuts the public - particularly the most vulnerable - need more and not less protection, and more and not less security in employment, housing, health, social care, and education. It must not be the most vulnerable who bear a disproportionate burden of the cuts, and individuals and communities need more and not less participation in decisions which impact upon their lives. Human rights are a means of ensuring that.”

“SHRC is therefore proposing alternative steps which better address the real needs of the public.”  

“The UK should simply incorporate into domestic law its existing international legal obligations and enable the public to enjoy their entitlements provided in such UN treaties as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

“Within Scotland SHRC is promoting a forward and outward looking approach – to include the active engagement of the public, Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government – in shaping Scotland’s National Action Plan on human rights. This will be a practical roadmap to progressively bring the living experience of all, particularly the most vulnerable, up to the standards of the international human rights legal obligations already ratified by the UK.”

The Scottish Human Rights Commission is a representative of Scotland on the Advisory Panel to the Commission on a Bill of Rights (read news story), and will meet with its members in Scotland in December.

Professor Miller added: “SHRC looks forward to sharing the Scottish experience of human rights with members of the Commission on a Bill of Rights later this year so that it can fully consider the implications, including significant constitutional implications, of any proposed changes to the current level of human rights protection north, and south, of the border.”

The Commission on a Bill of Rights (link) was established by the UK coalition government on 18 March 2011 with a remit to investigate the creation of a UK Bill of Rights that “incorporates and builds on … obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in UK law, and protects and extend our liberties.” It aims to report no later than the end of 2012.