Putting the justice into social justice: conference on Wednesday 9 December

On Wednesday 9 December the Scottish Government and the Scottish Human RIghts Commission co-hosted an Innovation Forum in support of Scotland's National Action Plan for Human Rights, 'Putting the justice into social justice - How International Human Rights Can Deliver Progressive Change for Scotland.'

The conference began at 9am with a plenary session and the keynote speech was given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The speech can be read in full here.

The view from the United Nations was provided by Christian Courtis, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Eeva Nykänen provided the Finish perspective, which can be read in powerpoint format here, and Michael Windfuhr from the German Institute for Human Rights spoke on 'Constitutionalising the right to dignity'. The plenary session finished with a debate chaired by James Wolffe QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, in which Shelagh McCall QC and Douglas Ross, Advocate, led the debate on the pros and cons of further incorporation in Scotland. Shelagh McCall's presentation can be read in word format here.

Breakout 1 - Responding to austerity and welfare reform: how can ESC rights be implemented?

Experience shows us that incorporation of international rights can make a real, practical difference to the decisions made by governments and public bodies and to people’s lives. However, even without economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights enshrined in domestic law other mechanisms and processes can be used to ensure they are implemented in practice. This session will explore the benefits, barriers and opportunities to embed ESC rights in accountability processes.

Chaired by Professor Alan Miller, with panellists:

  • Rachel Moon, Senior Solicitor, Govanhill Law Centre

  • Kavita Chetty, Head of Strategy and Legal, SHRC

  • Caro Cowan, Head of Tackling Poverty Team, Scottish Government

Breakout 2 - How international human rights have shaped responses in practice, law and policy

There are two parts to this session.

Part 1: Housing Rights in Practice

In Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Seven Towers Residents Group, supported by PPR, took a human rights based approach to hold the local housing authority to account and bring about improvements in their living conditions. The conditions experienced by the residents violated a number of international human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing (Article 11 ICESCR). The poor housing was also impacting on the ability of the residents to realise other rights, such as the right to education and the right to health. PPR supported the residents to identify priorities for change and to understand and articulate the problems they were experiencing in terms of human rights. Residents held the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to account by: collecting evidence demonstrating how the conditions failed to meet international human rights standards as well as local housing standards; setting timescales for change; monitoring progress; and holding regular meetings with Ministers and civil servants. Significant improvements were achieved using this approach. The Edinburgh Tenants Federation and SHRC, supported by PPR, are now working with residents in Leith to carry out a similar project. The residents are currently at the evidence gathering stage.

Chaired by Chloe Trew, Participation Officer, Scottish Human Rights Commission, with panellists:

  • Dessie Donnelly, Director, Participation and the Practice of Rights (PPR)

  • Clare MacGillivray, Development Coordinator, Edinburgh Tenants Federation

  • Heather Ford, Resident at West Cromwell Street, Leith, Treasurer of W.P.C. Residents Association

Part 2: Panel Debate on Land Reform

Land reform in Scotland is a debate which has, in the past, focused largely on property rights, with landowners often asserting their right to property under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR. In response to the Scottish Government’s proposals on land reform, the SHRC has sought to broaden the debate to highlight that, rather than being a tool to stop land reform or to polarise the debate, human rights should be seen as a framework for constructive dialogue between landowners and communities. For example, the Commission highlighted that the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights places a duty on the Scottish Ministers to use the maximum available resources to ensure the progressive realisation of rights such as the right to housing, food and employment. When viewed through this broader human rights lens, land should be seen as a national asset with key questions arising of how to strike the most appropriate balance between the legitimate rights of landowners and the wider public interest.

Chaired by Alison Elliot, Chair of the Land Reform Review Group (2012-14), with panellists:

  • Peter Peacock, Policy Director, Community Land Scotland

  • Megan MacInnes, Technical Advisor, Global Witness

  • Kirsteen Shields, Lecturer, University of Dundee School of Law

  • Christopher Nicholson, Chairman, Scottish Tenant Farmers Association

Breakout 3 - Models of incorporation: current perspectives and next steps

International human rights already play an important role in Scotland, however there are opportunities to strengthen their reach and impact. The purpose of this session is to explore the current realities, consider different potential models of incorporation of international human rights treaties, and learn from other jurisdictions to consider the benefits that incorporation could bring.

Chaired by Susan Kemp, Commissioner, Scottish Human Rights Commission, with panellists:

  • Alison Coull, Divisional Solicitor/Deputy Director, Constitutional and Civil Law Division, Scottish Government Legal Directorate

  • James Wolffe QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates

  • Dr Katie Boyle, Senior Lecturer, Roehampton Law School

Breakout 4 - Implementation and incorporation lessons: UNCRC, UNCRPD and CEDAW

There are a couple of examples where international human rights instruments have been explicitly referenced in Scots law. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 set up the duties of Scottish Ministers and public authorities in relation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In Wales, the National Assembly placed a duty on all Welsh Ministers to have due regard to the substantive rights and obligations within the CRC and its optional protocols. The purpose of this workshop is to discuss the lessons emerging from the CRC, Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) processes in the UK. Discussions will look at how to transfer lessons for future incorporation or implementation of other international human rights treaties.

Chaired by Diego Quiroz, Policy Officer, Scottish Human Rights Commission, with panellists:

  • Juliet Harris, Director of Together

  • Elin Gwynedd, Head of Empowering Children and Young People, Welsh Government

  • Ian Glover, Equality Unit, Scottish Government

  • Dr Marsha Scott, Chief Executive, Scottish Women’s Aid, Member of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group, Engender Board Member