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Scotland can learn from others on enforcing human rights: report

5 November 2018

People in Scotland have limited ability to use the law to realise their economic, social and cultural rights, according to a new report published today by the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

The report, Models of Incorporation and Justiciability for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, highlights that this “accountability gap” affects people’s rights to an adequate standard of living, health, housing, food and social security, among others.

Authored by Dr Katie Boyle, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Stirling, it studies models of incorporating international human rights standards into law adopted in different countries. It comes the same week as Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, visits the UK and Scotland to explore the links between poverty and human rights.

Dr Boyle’s report details how countries around the world, from Germany and Sweden to South Africa and Argentina, have stronger laws and stronger accountability processes for economic, social and cultural rights than exist in Scotland. Around 65 countries globally, including 12 in Europe, explicitly enshrine these rights in their constitutions, while others such as Finland also build in parliamentary scrutiny of whether they are being implemented.

The report demonstrates the opportunity for Scotland to learn from these systems, building on its existing laws and legal remedies as well as parliamentary processes to better protect a broader range of human rights.

Commenting on the report’s publication, Dr Boyle said: “Scotland can take the lead and demonstrate best practice in meeting international human rights obligations in devolved areas.

“Comparative research demonstrates that it is possible to incorporate international human rights standards, including economic, social and cultural rights, across our governance structures. This is called a multi-institutional approach where responsibility for protecting rights is shared by the judiciary, executive and parliament.

“It is not so much about whether we can improve human rights protections but how best to do so, if the political will is there, within our unique devolved framework. This can include looking at new and innovative ways of ensuring access to effective remedies. Models of incorporation and justiciability mechanisms for ESC rights are key components of exploring these new avenues for human rights protection in Scotland.”

Welcoming the report, Judith Robertson, chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission said: “The Commission knows from our work with people across Scotland that poverty and barriers to accessing health, housing and social security are of key concerns in their everyday lives. And yet, the international rights that correspond to these concerns – the rights to an adequate standard of living, housing, food, social security, education and work, have the least bite in our domestic law, and are given the least consideration in practice by public bodies.

“Scotland can and should reflect what’s happening in many other countries around the world. Taking action to better protect people’s rights by incorporating these international standards into domestic law is all the more important given the context of Brexit and the risks to rights this presents.

“As we await recommendations later this year from the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership, this research shows there is a wealth of international experience and practice – in courtrooms and parliaments – for Scotland to learn, replicate and build on when it comes to protecting all of our economic, social and environmental rights.”

Click here to view the report.


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