Second consultation - British Bill of Rights

The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) has today responded to the Second Consultation of the Commission on a Bill of Rights. This Second Consultation follows a previous engagement exercise carried out by the Commission on a Bill of Rights in August 2011.

In the submission, the SHRC principally highlights the need to retain the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA). Evidence suggests that the HRA has substantially improved protection and enjoyment of human rights for everyone in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Read the submission in Word format.

The SHRC also asks the Commission on a Bill of Rights to consider:

  • That the protections set out in the Human Rights Act are the minimum in terms of the human rights standards. Any legislative change to the Act should either incorporate additional human rights, or further entrench the protections provided by it.

  • In a devolution context, it is important that any additional Bill of Rights continues to apply equally to all people in the UK. There is a risk that different systems of protection, for example, where the Act remains in place in some of the devolved nations but not the rest of the UK, will create legal uncertainty and inconsistency. The SHRC therefore strongly argues for maintaining the current level of protection afforded by the Act and notes it would be “a highly regressive measure” to remove those protections or reduce accountability.

  • That the political (and to some extent media driven) debate about “rights and responsibilities” does not form serious basis for constitutional reform. There has been very little public education about the rights and freedoms contained in the Human Rights Act, or the European Convention on Human Rights, and how they work and serve us all. Few human rights are absolute and most human rights are already limited or qualified by definition - in practice this has led to national and international courts engaging cautiously in a case by case assessment of the proportionality of restrictions on rights in order to strike the right balance between the rights of the individual and the general interest of the community. As a result, the majority of human rights claims which come before the courts are unsuccessful.

  • That the SHRC continues to be concerned with the policy and political direction of human rights at UK level as they are used as a political scapegoat in relation to a wide number of concerns from criminal justice and terrorism to immigration.

  • That the SHRC considers that the European Convention on Human Rights should remain incorporated into our domestic law and that it would be regressive to remove the right of individuals in the UK to seek redress for alleged breaches of their Convention rights directly in UK courts.

  • While the UK has ratified a wide range of international human rights treaties that create a number of international obligations it has failed to incorporate this broader range of human rights into our domestic legal systems. In order to achieve sufficient guarantees of the respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights, the incorporation of all of the UK’s international human rights obligations into domestic law is required.

SHRC emphasises the importance of the development of national action plans on human rights to heighten awareness of human rights issues, promote co-ordination of human rights activities and measure progress over time.

The SHRC also stresses in the submission the uncertainty as to what exactly is meant by a UK Bill of Rights, and how it would be different from a normal Act of Parliament. In the current context - without a suggested proposal for a Bill of Rights - it is difficult to discuss advantages or disadvantages of a ‘new’ proposal.

The SHRC also highlights its continuing concern that the current political climate presents “singularly unfavourable conditions to discuss a UK Bill of Rights.” The submission notes that: “There are significant misconceptions about the value of human rights, and of the Human Rights Act, among the media, public authorities and the general public. The Commission believes that these misconceptions are not the product of an ‘ambiguous jargon’ or imbalances in the Act itself, but the lack of understanding of whom it protects, how it works, the limits of its application and its benefits for wider society.”

  • The Commission on a Bill of Rights is due to publish its findings before the end of 2012.

  • The work of the Commission on a Bill of Rights can be accessed here: