Rights concerns about policing, prisons and access to justice raised in Commission's latest report to UN

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has raised nearly 200 human rights concerns in its latest report to the United Nations (UN) on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Scotland.

Read the full report here.

The report includes the following issues:

Police practices affecting people’s rights

  • insufficient legal frameworks and oversight for Police Scotland’s use of new biometric technologies such as facial recognition and ‘cyber kiosks’
  • disproportionate police use of strip searches on women and children 
  • the need to strengthen police complaints procedures following the Angiolini review.

Conditions for people in prisons and places of detention

  • overcrowding and the impact of this on prison conditions
  • the use of 1m2 holding cubicles (‘dog-boxes’) in HMP Barlinnie
  • overuse of segregation
  • suicide and self-harm rates among female prisoners and children in secure care
  • lack of high secure mental health provision for women and young people.

Gaps in people’s access to justice

  • the disproportionate impact of reduced legal aid on women, disabled people and other specific groups
  • lack of access to justice for victims of rape and sexual assault,
  • lack of access to independent advocacy, particularly for people with mental health concerns, children and young people
  • the need to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 in line with international recommendations.  

The Commission also raises concerns with the UN about the broader legal framework and culture of respect for the protection of people’s rights in Scotland, particularly following Brexit and in light of continued proposals by the UK Government to amend the Human Rights Act.

Judith Robertson, Chair of the Commission, said:

"Civil and political rights include rights like privacy, freedom from inhumane treatment by the state and access to justice. Everyone has these rights, as set out in international human rights treaties. In reality, as our latest comprehensive assessment shows, there are some serious gaps in how some of these rights are currently upheld in Scotland.

"We remain concerned that police use of new technologies such as ‘cyber kiosks’ and facial recognition is outstripping the adequate protection for people’s rights required from our legal frameworks and oversight mechanisms.

“People in prisons and other places of detention are experiencing conditions that are unacceptable, and fall far short of the standards needed to protect some of their rights.

“People’s access to justice more broadly continues to be undermined by the impact of reduced legal aid and a lack of access to independent advocacy. There are also particular challenges around how the justice system deals with rape and sexual assault, and the continued need to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in line with international recommendations.

"We have seen some progress in some areas since our last report to the United Nations on civil and political rights in 2015. That is welcome. We would now like to see the Scottish Government address the concerns raised in this latest report with a detailed set of commitments. This would help ensure that Scotland becomes a place where everyone’s rights are realised in full.”

The United Nations Human Rights Committee is expected to consider the Commission’s report in March, as part of its preparation to undertake its next full review of the UK’s implementation of the ICCPR.


Notes to Editors:

  1. The Scottish Human Rights Commission is an independent public body with a statutory mandate to promote and protect human rights for everyone in Scotland. It is an A-Status accredited National Human Rights Institution within the United Nations human rights system.
  2.  The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted in 1966, entered into force in 1976 and was ratified by the UK in 1976. It commits all State parties to protect the civil and political rights of all individuals, including the rights to life, liberty, fair trial, freedom of expression and freedom from torture.
  3.  The United Nations Human Rights Committee reviews each State’s implementation of the ICCPR periodically. The UK was last reviewed in 2015. The next review is expected in late 2021 or 2022. A List of Issues will be prepared in advance of the review, which will be informed by reports such as the Commission’s latest submission. More information is available here.