Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, warned that the Scottish Government will block any attempt by the UK government to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) and weaken the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) that is embedded within it.
In a speech she said the responsibility for the Human Rights Act is with the UK parliament but ECHR and human rights itself is a devolved matter that can but amended, weakened or scrapped.
Her speech was facilitated by Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, a Human Rights Charity, at the Pearce Institute, Glasgow, today.
To Sturgeon: “The cause of human rights is also the cause of social justice. Human rights are founded on the recognition, on the belief that all human beings have equal worth, and that all of us are entitled to the same fundamental protections and freedoms. She said that HRA and ECHR were vital to secure LGBTI rights and equality throughout the UK.
The First Minister made three ”fundamental points: The first is that repealing or weakening the provisions of the HRA – as the current UK government says that it intends to do – would be a monumental mistake. It would remove important protections from people within the UK, but it would also deeply damage the UK’s reputation overseas
“Secondly, … how the Scottish Government will respond to any UK Government proposals [in seeking] to ensure that human rights protections are retained in Scotland, and … across the UK.
“And finally, … far from being a burden on government – ECHR sets out minimum standards for civilised societies that we should actually be looking to build on, … and how the Scottish Government is doing that, by placing social and economic rights at the heart of our policy-making.”
She said that ECHR “is a considerable achievement of post-war Europe – perhaps the finest achievement of post-war Europe” and the “UK played such a leading role in its formation” and ratification.
The HRA of 1998 ensured that ECHR could be interpreted and considered by courts here in Britain.
She warned “that any legislation that weakens human rights protections, will diminish the UK’s reputation overseas, it will damage relations with devolved governments, and it will impact on the welfare of people in the UK.
“It would also cause completely unnecessary confusion and inconvenience”, as under the Tory proposal the UK won’t withdraw from ECHR, but “instead of being interpreted by domestic courts, cases could then only be heard in Strasbourg.” This move, she said, will weaken UK courts, contrary to Tory stated goals.
But beyond the practical implications, Sturgeon stated: “Human rights aren’t always convenient for Governments – but they’re not meant to be. Their purpose is to protect the powerless, not to strengthen those in power.
She said the whole idea of repealing HRA has created “an unnecessary difficulty… meets no pressing need, and addresses no obvious problem. There is instead a clear risk that it will create legal confusion; harm people in the UK who need support and protection; and give comfort to illiberal governments around the world. No responsible government should even be contemplating such a step.”
While responsibility for HRA “rests with Westminster, ECHR are embedded into the devolution settlement. And human rights itself is actually a devolved issue.
“That means that any attempt to amend the Human Rights Act is likely, in our view to require the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament. And it is inconceivable that such consent would be granted.”
She said: “let me make clear absolutely today that the Scottish Government will advocate that it is not granted by the Scottish Parliament
But that isn’t the end of the matter. The Scottish Government will also oppose any weakening of human rights protections – not just in Scotland, but across the whole of the UK.”
She said that Scotland will not accept an “dea” which “will somehow try to carve Scotland out of what they [Tories] are trying to do with the HRA.
“Human rights are not English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish rights – they are universal rights.”
“The other thing the Scottish government will do”, she said, “is to use our devolved powers to promote human rights across different areas of policy-making.
As such HRA and ECHR are central to policies of the Scottish government, such as the new social security system, the National Action Plan on Human Rights, relationship with Trade Unions, helping refugees, and crucial healthcare services.
“The cause of human rights is also the cause of social justice.
That’s why diluting the protections of the HRA will cause harm to those who most need help. And it’s why – if the UK Government sets out proposals to do that – the Scottish Government will be a vigorous and vociferous opponent of them.”