A year of transition: Annual Report 2022-23
As the Commission publishes its Annual Report for 2022-23, our Executive Director Jan Savage reflects on the past 12 months, and the challenges of the years ahead.
The theme of the year 2022-23 for the Scottish Human Rights Commission - and indeed for human rights in Scotland – has been transition.
We've seen an increasingly divergent approach to human rights at the UK level, all of which has an impact on how human rights are experienced by people here in Scotland.
Over the last 12 months, the UK Government has progressed with policies such as the Illegal Migration Bill and exploration of plans to repeal the Human Rights Act – the very foundation through which all our rights are protected in law – which have left human rights defenders across Scotland greatly concerned.
At the same time, the Scottish Government has published its plans to strengthen human rights protections with its proposed new Human Rights Bill for Scotland and has reintroduced an amended UNCRC Bill back to the Scottish Parliament.
Yet, there is no denying that good policy intentions haven’t always translated into greater human rights protections. The reality for too many people in Scotland is still that our human rights are not guaranteed, despite what international treaties and domestic legislation and policies say.
The people of Scotland face daily barriers to full enjoyment of their human rights, including the ongoing cost of living crisis, issues accessing decent housing and health and social care, and a legal system which makes it difficult to get justice when our human rights are breached.
Put simply, legislation and policy aside, more must be done to ensure that human rights are protected in Scotland, and that includes our work here at the Scottish Human Rights Commission.
As Scotland’s National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), the Commission is Scotland’s human rights watchdog, tasked with promoting and protecting everyone’s human rights. We are an independent public body, accountable to the people of Scotland, through the Scottish Parliament. We have a large mandate to fulfil, and so the members of our Commission need to take careful decisions about how we use our powers and people to greatest effect.
It has been a year of significant change and positive development for the Commission in that regard. As we publish our Annual Review for 2022/23, we are in the throes of delivering our Transition Plan for 2023/24. In the final year of the current 2020-24 Strategic Plan and building on the lived experiences of people across Scotland, the Commission has identified a clear need to deliver a stronger accountability role for human rights in Scotland and is building the framework for our renewed focus on bearing witness to the lived experiences of rights holders.
The Commission's new Spotlight Projects take a thematic approach to identifying our key human rights concerns and are designed to meaningfully engage with rights holders, taking the Commission out of Edinburgh and going to the people and places where human rights are real.
While we are coming to the end of our transition year, as a team, we are all very proud to report on a year of strong impact for the Commission and will continue to embrace our learning and listening as we enter the next phase for the Commission. As the Commission’s first Executive Director, I look forward to leading the team to work together with the Members of the Commission and our next Chair to deliver an ambitious Strategic Plan for 2024-28, with input from the people and communities that we serve.