First Minister’s Human Rights experts recommend post-Brexit Act including right to housing & food

Ben Wray

Report argues Brexit “poses a clear risk of regression in terms of human rights”

FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s advisory group on human rights has published its recommendations, proposing an Act of the Scottish Parliament which would partly fill the “significant gap in the protection of rights in Scotland” once Britain leaves the EU.

The recommendations, which come on International Human Rights Day, as the world marks the 70th anniversary of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights, propose that the Act establishes “a new framework of human rights designed to improve people’s daily lives” with “dignity as its core value”, and should follow a “public participatory process as a vital part” of the Act’s development.

The Act “could be further developed into a Bill of Rights as part of a written constitution of an independent Scotland.”

The aim of the recommendations are to “support people to exercise their rights, improve everyday access to justice and assist public bodies to carry out their duties.”

The section on economic, social and cultural rights proposed a “right to an adequate standard of living”, including a right to adequate housing, food and “protection against poverty and social exclusion”.

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The proposal also included the “right to a healthy environment”, which would see Scotland join 100 other countries in establishing “the right of everyone to benefit from healthy ecosystems which sustain human well-being as well as the rights of access to information, participation in decision-making and access to justice.”

Speaking on the publication of the Report, Chair of the Advisory Group, Professor Alan Miller, said: “There is an urgent need of human rights leadership in today’s world, so we were delighted that the First Minister asked us for recommendations on how Scotland can lead by example.

“The leadership steps that Scotland needs to take are clear. The internationally recognised human rights belong to everyone in Scotland and must be put into our law. As importantly, they must then be put into everyday practice. In this way people are empowered to lead lives of human dignity, to have a sense of self-worth.”

The report found that at the moment human rights were not sufficiently being met across all of Scotland.

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The report stated: “In too many places services are not meeting needs. There are barriers to accessing the services, or just simply insufficient provision and there is inadequate availability of advice and independent advocacy.

“This exists across Scotland and across sectors. It is particularly acute in some parts of the country, such as rural areas, and in some sectors, such as the care sector.”

The report found that “there needs to be more consistent human rights capacity across the diverse range of bodies which carry out monitoring, inspection, regulation, complaints handling and adjudication.”

“In short, there is inadequate practical implementation of rights and there is an everyday accountability deficit.”

The First Minister initiated the advisory group after the vote to Leave in the 2016 EU referendum, and the report found that Brexit “poses a clear risk of regression in terms of human rights”.

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“Now is the time to do all that can be done, within the limitations of devolution, to prevent such regression, to keep pace with progressive developments in the EU and to continue to provide leadership,” the report added.

The proposed Act would respond to “a significant gap in the protection of rights in Scotland” post-Brexit.

Commenting after the publication of the report, the First Minister, who announced a new taskforce to implement the recommendations, said:

 “I set up the Advisory Group to offer advice on how we can further enhance human rights, as I wanted to ensure Brexit does not harm human rights in Scotland and that we remain in step with future advances in EU human rights. I also asked for recommendations to ensure Scotland is an international leader in respecting and enhancing human rights.

 “I share the ambition in this report that Scotland should introduce a human rights statutory framework and I support their recommendation that this should be done through public engagement, working across the public sector, civic society and parliament. As a first step I will establish a National Taskforce, early in 2019, to progress these plans.”

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All in all, the report makes seven recommendations:

– An Act of the Scottish Parliament which provides human rights leadership.

– A public participatory process to be developed as a vital part of preparation of the Act and its implementation.

– Capacity-building to enable effective implementation of the Act so as to improve people’s lives.

– A Scottish Government National Mechanism for Monitoring, Reporting and Implementation of Human Rights

– Development of human rights-based indicators for Scotland’s National Performance Framework (NPF).

– Process for Implementation of Recommendations 1-5

– Integration of any further devolved powers into the framework as proposed in Recommendation 1 and, if independence, a written constitution including a Bill of Rights for Scotland.

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Commenting on the report Craig Dalzell, head of policy and research at the Common Weal think-tank, stated: “It is welcoming to see that the Scottish Government is taking its responsibilities to protect human rights so seriously and it absolutely should integrate these rights into every applicable area of policy making.

“However, the Scottish Government should not abrogate responsibilities on the grounds of the limited powers of devolution. Where the UK Government breaches the rights of residents in Scotland in reserved areas of policy (such as detention of immigrants or Universal Credit) or where violations are committed in areas of foreign policy then the Scottish Government should protest in the strongest possible terms and actively resist in the strongest possible manner.

“The violation of human rights, wherever or to whomever they occur, should not occur in Scotland’s name.”

Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said: “Today is an important milestone in Scotland’s human rights journey. Seventy years since universal human rights were first enshrined internationally, a persistent gap remains between well-intentioned laws and policies, and the reality for people’s rights in their everyday lives. These significant and bold recommendations, if taken forward by the Scottish Government, have real potential to close that gap.”

Picture courtesy of the University of Essex