Commission focus on Access to Justice

The Scottish Human Rights Commission is making Access to Justice a priority focus of its work in 2023.

Today, the Commission is publishing an extensive study investigating the challenges people in Scotland face in accessing justice when their human rights are violated, as part of the first stage of this work.

The paper exposes a highly complex access to justice system in Scotland, which is fragmented, difficult to navigate, and often simply inaccessible to too many people.  It also finds that learning from complaints and issues which are raised through existing systems do not often result in wider changes to benefit other people.

The study is authored by Professor Katie Boyle, Professor of Human Rights Law and Social Justice at the University of Strathclyde.

Read the discussion paper in full: Access to Justice for Social Rights.

An Executive Summary is also available on the publications page of our website.

The paper focuses on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, with six key themes:

  • Improving people’s awareness of their human rights
  • Understanding the financial, legal and emotional resources involved in getting access to justice
  • Simplifying the access to justice process
  • Making sure all the different ways of making a complaint are accessible, timely and affordable
  • Ensuring that responses to human rights complaints are effective, both for individual people and to help organisations improve how they work.
  • Feeding lessons learned back into the system, to create meaningful change.

Discussion about Access to Justice

Under international human rights law, everyone has the right to equal treatment and a solution when things go wrong - that is access to justice.

Crucially, it should be easy to achieve, but this paper demonstrates that right now in Scotland, many people are confused about their human rights and where to turn when they need help.

As the Scottish Government is consulting on proposals to introduce a new Human Rights Bill for Scotland, stronger consideration of all routes to improve access to justice for human rights violations in Scotland must be considered.

The Commission will publish a second paper on Access to Justice later in 2023/24, following the journey of real complaints.

Strengthening human rights in Scotland

Claire Methven O’Brien, Member of the Commission, said:

“The Scottish Government has committed to lay a new Human Rights Bill before the Scottish Parliament during this Parliamentary term and has recently published a consultation paper outlining the approach it plans to take. But is changing the law enough to ensure people’s rights are respected?

"Human rights language has become more prominent in Scottish law and policy debates since the Commission was first established. This is a positive development and should be warmly welcomed. 

"Yet far too many people in Scotland still experience denials of their basic human rights and dignity every day – and lack effective access to the mechanisms and means to challenge them.

"This discussion paper is our first contribution to promoting discussion - and action - towards more effective Access to Justice for all in Scotland.”


Notes to editors:

  1. If you are working in access to justice and have further questions, please email the Commission at