Scotland now joins the growing cohort of nations around the world in which children and young people’s rights are enshrined in national law. The UNCRC Scotland Bill received Royal Assent on 16th of January 2024 – this means in 6 months’ time on the 16th of July 2024, many of the rights outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child will become part of the legal framework that governs our lives in Scotland.
Of course, a human rights culture needs more than just legal recognition of rights to support its’ development, but incorporation provides a strong foundation for the roots of a human rights culture to take hold.
[THRE previously featured the UNCRC Bill and the Scottish Human Rights Bill in our ‘Legislation Explainer’ series – you can read these via the link here to find out more about incorporation.]
Let’s explore, what does incorporation do for rights holders?
Foundation to build from
It’s important to remember that human rights are the floor, they are the bare minimum standard for how we should expect to be treated by those with power and absolutely not a ceiling to aspire to. By bringing rights into Scots law and setting expectations that they are a basic duty and responsibility for duty-bearers to abide by, we can change attitudes and expectations from duty bearers that they are doing something ‘extra’ or going above and beyond when they uphold basic human rights. For rights-holders, incorporation can empower them to expect better from our institutions and public bodies in meeting their needs and give them a stronger voice with legal backing when speaking up against injustice and mistreatment.
Routes to justice and accountability
Incorporation comes with the weight of legal duties and requirements for duty-bearers to fulfil and on the flipside brings clear routes to justice and accountability for rights-holders when things go wrong and rights aren’t upheld. The Scottish Human Rights Commission’s ‘Attitudes to Human Rights’ survey found that in 2023, 78% of Scots did not know who to go to if they had a human rights issue. This poses a huge barrier to achieving justice and accountability, as instances of rights violations are likely not even being reported or identified in the first instance. By making these rights part of Scots law, incorporation helps rights holders to see clear paths to solutions and compensation when things go wrong.
Funding, budgeting and resourcing
Human rights approaches need to be built into all policies and processes from the beginning for them to be meaningfully upheld. An example of how they can be overlooked is in participation. When we fail to budget for participation at the beginning of a process, it becomes difficult to retroactively find the funds to bring together groups of people with lived experience to pay for their time, travel expenses and any resources needed to facilitate their involvement. By bringing human rights into legal standards, they become part of the budgeting process, and we can allocate funds with human rights in mind from the beginning. In order to uphold human rights, we need the funding, budgeting considerations and resourcing to match.
Building human rights into our cultural and social context
Human rights can often seem like an irrelevant, far away entity to many rights-holders due to their image as lofty, complex international conventions that sit at the level of institutions like the United Nations. This can lead to a disconnect between the rights that sit in these conventions and the impact that they can have on the issues that people encounter in their everyday lives. By bringing rights into Scots law, we contextualise them and make them feel more ‘real’ as we can picture them in the situations encountered with local councils, hospitals, police officers, teachers and other duty-bearers that are part of our lives. Incorporation gives us the foundation to build up understandings of rights in the Scottish context as we will begin to see them unfold and shape our society in local schools, parks, workplaces and courts.
Keeping track of standards and outcomes internationally, nationally and locally
Setting out clear standards in monitoring and evaluation allows us to keep better track of the progress we are making across Scotland to ensure that no part of Scotland is overlooked or worse off when it comes to rights. At present, several third sector organisations track and report on progress on human rights using their own methods of data collection and evaluation – you can check out Together’s State of Children’s Rights reports for a good example of this. However, this is often reliant on duty-bearers self-assessing their progress, voluntary organisations collecting their own cases of good and bad practice, or relying on those with lived experience volunteering their stories. While these are good sources of data, there is not a universal standard or guideline, which makes it more difficult to track progress in an objective way. Incorporation should hold duty-bearers, such as local councils and public services, to clear standards and set out defined ways of reporting, monitoring and evaluating progress making for better outcomes over time.
Model of progress and good practice for human rights practice
Last but not least, human rights are a universal means of upholding fairness, respect, equality, dignity and autonomy across different nations, languages and circumstances. This means that progress for human rights in Scotland doesn’t just equate to positive outcomes for Scottish people. Being able to demonstrate rights in action and using rights as a benchmark for wellbeing and outcomes will allow for other nations around the world to use the example set out by Scotland to make the case for human rights for their own people, places and purposes.
More information: The Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) have published a new briefing on the Scottish Human Rights Bill to put #AllOurRightsinLaw – if you’d like to find out more about the Bill, read it here.