Scottish Greens call for clarity on Human Rights Bill

The Human Rights Bill will offer vital protections.

Scotland’s Human Rights Bill must not be diluted, delayed or dropped, says the Scottish Greens justice spokesperson, Maggie Chapman MSP.

Writing to the Cabinet Secretary for Equalities, Shirley-Anne Sommerville, Ms Chapman expressed concerns about any further delays to this legislation and the lack of updates on its progress, which many expected to see published in the Spring.

The Bill, which was a key commitment in the Bute House Agreement, and in the SNP’s 2021 manifesto, would incorporate crucial treaties into Scot’s law and introduce world leading human rights legislation. It would include the right to a healthy environment, a right for older people to live a life of dignity and independence, and improved protections for LGBTQIA+ people.

Ms Chapman said: “Scotland can and must be a world leader for human rights. That means treating everyone with the respect and dignity we all deserve, and enshrining protections against discrimination, poverty and environmental destruction. 

“This is a crucial bill, and the change in First Minister must not lead to it being delayed, diluted or dropped. We have had years of Westminster governments that have actively ignored international law and targeted vulnerable communities for political gain. Scotland must use every power we have to stand against this.

“The people who need this bill the most are the marginalised communities that don’t have a voice in our parliament and who have been hit the hardest by cuts, austerity and 14 years of Tory misrule.

“Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity and to be able to access the services they need. These are the building blocks of a fairer and better society like the one that I know we can be.”

Text of the letter Maggie Chapman sent Shirley-Anne Sommerville

Dear Shirley-Anne,

Re: A Human Rights Bill for Scotland

I am writing to ask you to reaffirm the Scottish Government’s commitment to introduce world leading human rights legislation. This was a commitment in the Bute House Agreement, and in the SNP’s 2021 Scottish Parliament election manifesto.

You will know that the Scottish Greens are very supportive of, and remain committed to, the incorporation of the following international treaties into Scots law:

  • the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

  • the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

  • the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We also want to see our laws include the right to a healthy environment, a right for older people to ensure equal access to their human rights so that they can live a life of dignity and independence, and an equality clause which provides equal access for everyone, including LGBTQIA+ people.

You will be aware of the concerns within civil society that the delays to the introduction of this legislation have caused. The consultation on the proposed legislation closed in October 2023, and the analysis of the responses to this consultation were published in January 2024. Many individuals and organisations were expecting to see the legislation lodged this Spring, but since the recent changes to the Scottish Government, there has been no update provided on this important Bill, and no mention of the importance of human rights in the new Government’s priorities.

The Scottish Government and the human rights sector have already invested significant resources into this legislation, and expectations for delivery have been set. This is becoming an issue of trust between the Scottish Government and civil society.

John Swinney has made it clear that his first priority as First Minister is to eradicate child poverty. A Human Rights Bill for Scotland can and must be an important element of this objective. If we get this legislation right, it will provide the framework for focusing public expenditure and improving our public services in ways that will help us deliver our Minimum Core obligations. These, in turn, will support the First Minister’s ambition to eradicate child poverty. Indeed, we cannot and will not achieve this laudable mission without meeting our Minimum Core obligations.

So, this legislation matters. The incorporation of international treaties into Scots law matters. Increasing our society’s understanding of their human rights and how individuals and communities can access their rights matters. And having the powers of enforcement and remedy when people cannot realise their rights matters.

I would, therefore, appreciate a clear commitment from you that it is still the Scottish Government’s intention to deliver A Human Rights Act for Scotland. Further, please would you also confirm when the Scottish Government intends to lodge this legislation, and what you hope the timescales for its passage through the parliamentary scrutiny process will be.

Everyone in Scotland deserves to be able to access their human rights, to realise these rights, and to have recourse to remedy if their rights are violated. This, of course, requires action from across government, including local government. A Human Rights Act for Scotland can be a vital part of making this happen.

It is vital that the Scottish Government delivers on its promise to introduce this legislation, and you will have the Scottish Green Party’s full support to do so.

Yours sincerely

Maggie Chapman