Commission welcomes change to Scotland’s COVID-19 certification scheme

The Scottish Human Rights Commission welcomes the First Minister’s announcement that the Scottish Government will amend its COVID-19 certification scheme, to allow people the option of evidencing a recent negative lateral flow test as an alternative to vaccination status.

This change, to be effective from 6 December 2021, should ensure that people who have not been fully vaccinated are not excluded from affected venues, provided lateral flow tests are available, accessible and affordable for all, as the Commission noted in its briefing in April 2021, and subsequently. This change is particularly important as the Scottish Government is considering expansion of the certification scheme, to cover all leisure and hospitality. 

Exclusion from all leisure and hospitality would involve extensive interference with human rights including: the right to private and family life, which covers the right to personal development and to establish and develop relationships; the right to health, including mental health; freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to take part in cultural life.

Exclusion would have a greater negative impact on those in more vulnerable circumstances, including people who are: living in poverty; living in more cramped spaces; living in shared accommodation; experiencing domestic violence; experiencing mental health issues, or living alone. 

Exclusion would also disproportionately affect people from groups among whom vaccine take up is lower, including people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, people from certain ethnic minority communities, refugees and people seeking asylum and younger people. Introducing the option of evidencing a negative test should mean people are not excluded from whole areas of life, avoiding these disproportionate impacts.

The Commission therefore agrees that the introduction of the negative test alternative will help to ensure that the scheme is proportionate, provided the updated scheme is viable for all, including people who are not registered with the NHS and those who do not have smartphones.

As with all measures that interfere with human rights, the scheme should be subject to regular meaningful review and scrutiny, ensuring that it is lawful, necessary, proportionate and time limited.