Members of the Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) met on 1st June and agreed on a co-ordinated campaign to defend the Human Rights Act (HRA), and to promote human rights for everyone in everyday situations. Human rights standards and principles reflect our basic values of fairness, respect, equality and dignity.
Despite recent press coverage, members agreed not to be complacent and recognised that abolition of the HRA and potential withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) remain very real possibilities. Following the UK Government’s announcement in the Queen’s speech that “My Government will bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”, some thought that the case for the HRA had been won, but HRCS members thought the result would actually be a weakening of human rights enforcement and protection as further information was provided in the Queen’s Speech Briefing Pack:
“The Government will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. This would reform and modernise our human rights legal framework and restore common sense to the application of human rights laws, which has been undermined by the damaging effects of Labour’s Human Rights Act. It would also protect existing rights, which are an essential part of a modern, democratic society, and better protect against abuse of the system and misuse of human rights laws.”
Carole Ewart from the HRCS spoke at the meeting and said:
“The real issue for politicians is to ensure the general public enjoy and can equally assert human rights in everyday places. A campaign of demonization against human rights only makes sense if you want to create public hostility to rights that should in fact empower us all, as well as the weakest in our society, and offer us all protection against failings in public services. Human rights belong to public service workers too and can be used within organisations to deliver more effective, people centred services.
The meeting was addressed by Kevin Hanratty from the NI Human Rights Consortium who pointed out:
“The HRA was a cornerstone human rights protection of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and the new Assembly it set up, just as it was for devolution in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament. The Human Rights Consortium (NI) is determined to work with our colleagues across the UK like the Scottish Human Rights Consortium to defend this important legislation, which acts as a fundamental protection for the most vulnerable in our society”
Marianne Scobie from Glasgow Disability Alliance pointed out that welfare reforms and changes in the delivery of social care to disabled people had raised significant human rights issues but there was not a throughput of legal cases to change public sector behaviour. “When people do assert their human rights that case is individually fixed but what we want to see is a change in policy, practice and culture for us all. We look forward to working with other organisations to ensure the HRA realises its potential.”
Aidan Collins from HIV Scotland outlined how the protection afforded to its members by the HRA had changed how individuals approached public services and influenced their expectations about how services are delivered as well as which services should be available.
The next HRCS event is its national conference on 25th June ‘What Next for Human Rights’ which will be addressed by the Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil.
- The Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) is a civil society network established in January 2010 to address the gap in knowledge of human rights and to build capacity on applying human rights principles and standards to the delivery of publicly funded services. The HRCS was borne out of an unmet need and in response to specific problems. The need for the HRCS is proven and we are committed to developing our work across Scotland. Our membership has increased to over 180 organisations and individuals. To join go to www.hrcscotland.co.uk
- The Queen’s Speech Briefing Pack is available on the Ministry of Justice website and quote appears at page 75.
- UK Government policy appears to contradict Scottish Government Policy which was affirmed at the Scottish Parliament on 11th November 2014: “…expresses its confidence in, and support for, the Human Rights Act 1998 as a successful and effective implementation of the convention in domestic law, and believes that the principles and values that inform the convention, the rights and freedoms that it enumerates and the Acts that incorporate it into law, should be a source of unity and consensus across the whole of society and should enjoy the unequivocal backing of all who are committed to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”
- The conference on 25th June runs from 9am – 4.15pm in the Scottish Universities Insight Institute, Collins Building, 22 Richmond St, Glasgow, G1 1XQ