MSP Briefing: COVID Public Inquiry

The Scottish Human Rights Commission is briefing MSPs today on the need for a human rights based approach to any forthcoming public inquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The event is being organised by Amnesty Scotland. Other speakers include representatives from Inclusion Scotland, the Health and Social Care Alliance, and the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, and Talat Yaqoob, an independent consultant and campaigner for the rights of unpaid carers. 

Kavita Chetty, Head of Strategy and Legal will reiterate calls from the Commission for any public inquiry to take a human rights based approach. Commenting in advance, she said:

“People’s human rights have been impacted by almost every measure and decision taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The experiences of people living in care homes, people accessing social care, those in prison, or children unable to attend school or nursery all have human rights implications. The fundamental right to life has been at stake in all of these decisions and some restrictions on our rights are generally understood to be necessary for the protection of health and life. Yet, whilst the whole population experienced unprecedented restrictions on their personal freedoms, we already know that some groups have felt the impact acutely and disproportionately.

“Now, as we start to look back on decisions made, it is important to understand both why and how people’s human rights were impacted. A public inquiry can shine a light on systemic issues and failures, in turn allowing for accountability and lessons to be learned as we move into recovery.

“The Commission welcomes the First Minister’s commitment in July 2020 that any public inquiry will take a human rights based approach. This will enable all of us to examine decisions through the lens of international and domestic human rights laws and standards – a clear, robust framework that can guide us through a complex set of issues.

“Done properly, taking a human rights based approach also means involving people whose rights are affected in both the design and implementation stages of the Inquiry. It also means delivering meaningful accountability – identifying what there should be accountability for; who is accountable; how accountability will be realised; and what the duties are to ensure effective remedies when it is established that things have gone wrong.  

“To get this right, embedding human rights from the outset, detailed work to develop and specify Terms of Reference, accountability mechanisms, participation processes and communication methods should begin now. 

“Some issues that arose in Scotland could also be covered by a UK Inquiry. However, many issues experienced over the pandemic relate to devolved areas of law and policy – health, social care, education, justice and policing, for example.  Scotland also introduced its own set of emergency legal powers. Therefore, a Scottish Inquiry should address these, in tandem and in collaboration with any UK Inquiry.”

Read the Commission’s letter to the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care in May 2021.

Read the Commission’s July 2020 briefing on human rights and care homes during COVID-19, which also discusses the need for a human rights based inquiry.