The Scottish Human Rights Commission has voiced its opposition to the "deeply regressive" provisions in the UK Government’s Bill of Rights Bill, published yesterday. 

The Commission is clear in its view that the Human Rights Act, which the bill would repeal and replace, works well as it stands – noting that its opinion is shared across UK and Scottish human rights organisations, the UK Joint Committee on Human Rights, and the UK Government’s own Independent Human Rights Act Review, which concluded there is no case for widespread reform.  

"We strongly urge the UK Government, MPs and Members of the Lords to respect the UK’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and retain the Human Rights Act in its current form", the Commission stated.

It has particularly concerns about the following proposals in the bill: 

  • directing national courts as to how to interpret and apply human rights, which it says would interfere with the role of courts, undermine the separation of powers, and reduce accountability for breaches of rights;
  • decoupling UK courts’ interpretation of Convention rights from the European Court of Human Rights, which will introduce confusion and uncertainty for rights holders and duty bearers alike, and may further reduce rights protection;
  • requiring a rights holder to demonstrate "significant disadvantage" before being permitted to pursue a remedy for a breach of their human rights in court, which would "severely undermine the development of a rights-respecting culture and the international human rights requirement to provide an adequate remedy for all human rights breaches";
  • requiring UK courts to take into account the wider conduct of rights holders, undermining the universality of human rights, a fundamental principle of human rights law; and
  • the impact of repealing the Human Rights Act in Scotland – the Act is embedded into the Scotland Act, and "The potential impact of repealing the Human Rights Act, in terms of the fulfilment of human rights in Scotland, does not appear to have been adequately considered."

Ian Duddy, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, commented: "The UK Government’s new 'Bill of Rights' will water down human rights protections, erect additional barriers to accessing justice and see the UK refuse to comply in full with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights.  

"Over the last 20 years the Human Rights Act has helped protect the rights of individuals throughout the UK, including children, disabled people, workers, victims of crime, and those seeking asylum. The Human Rights Act has also safeguarded access to justice, privacy, freedom of religion or belief and the right to protest.

"We are concerned that the UK Government’s new 'Bill of Rights' will undermine this progress and strip away accountability, oversight and access to justice. If passed, the impact would be deeply regressive, undermining 20 years of human rights law and policy development across the UK, making it harder for people to enforce their rights and putting the UK in breach of its international obligations."

He called on the UK Government to present the bill for pre-legislative scrutiny "so that its implications for everyone can be examined and understood".