The Scottish Human Rights Commission has published a briefing on the human rights concerns and obligations that must be considered by the Scottish Government in any moves to introduce COVID-19 status certificates.
With debate continuing about whether a scheme to certify individuals as COVID safe is an appropriate way to assist easing lockdown restrictions, the Commission calls for a human rights based approach to reaching decisions about a potential scheme.
It believes the Scottish Government should only use, support or permit any use of COVID-19 status certification once there is clear scientific evidence (1) that vaccinations are effective in reducing transmission of the virus, and (2) of the duration of protection afforded by the vaccines.
In addition there must be clear advice regarding the overall effectiveness of the proposed scheme in protecting life and managing the pandemic, and it is assessed as both necessary and proportionate to do so.
Certification should only be permitted and supported if viable alternatives to vaccine certification are included for those who have not been vaccinated, and if the system is practicable for all.
Any such scheme must be temporary, and there must be regular, open and transparent review of the ongoing necessity and proportionality of the scheme, generally and in each setting in which it is used.
The UK Government is undertaking trials at a number of events with a view to rolling out a certification scheme no earlier than June. The Scottish Government is seeking a Four Nations approach, but with Scotland currently in the pre-election period, no further announcement is expected until after the election.
The Commission states that the possibility of using a COVID-19 certification scheme to access areas of society within Scotland "raises a number of human rights concerns and it will be important that the Scottish Government takes its human rights obligations fully into account in considering this matter".
It adds: "A rationale provided for the use of a certification scheme is to enable people to regain a degree of liberty, allowing them greater access to areas of life that have been curtailed, and others to work and earn a living, whilst also protecting against the transmission of the virus. However, depending where and how it is used, a COVID-19 status certification scheme could itself have a significant impact on the enjoyment of human rights.
"Requiring a COVID-19 status certificate to access areas of life such as education, housing, work, domestic travel, essential services, hospitality venues, cultural and leisure activities, community spaces, events, gyms and/or retail could discriminate against people who cannot produce such a certificate and further exacerbate the inequities highlighted during the pandemic."
To fully understand the potential impact of introducing a certification scheme, the Commission maintains, "it will be essential to carry out a meaningful participatory process, hearing directly from people across the country, including those from the most vulnerable groups, those who cannot be vaccinated and those who decline to be vaccinated, and taking their views fully into account... Participation is a key element in taking a human rights based approach to decision making".