Tuesday , 17 May 2022

Sturgeon: Scotland says NO to scrapping Human Rights Act or ECHR

EU and SaltireNicola Sturgeon said that Scotland would remain opposed to the repeal of the Human Rights Act (HRA) or withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Sturgeon said: “I oppose the repeal of the Human Rights Act, I think it’s an appalling thing to be doing.

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

“Human rights are there to protect all of us, for example it was the Human Rights Act that enabled people to go to court to object against the bedroom tax.

“The idea that we take away human rights, I think, is just an awful suggestion, so the Scottish Government will oppose that and work hard to make sure that in Scotland people still get vital human-rights protection.”

The Conservative government want the UK courts and parliament the “final say” on human rights issues rather than the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and dilute or remove ECHR from playing a significant role in local legislations.

Prime Minster David Cameron has charged Michael Gove with scrapping HRA, replacing it with a “British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” (BBRR) where ECtHR ruling would not be able to require the UK to change British laws and ECHR being treated as “advisory” rather than binding.

Instead, under BBRR the UK’s Supreme Court would be “the ultimate arbiter” on human rights matters.

In a draft document BBRR is also set to limit human rights to the “most serious” cases involving “criminal law and the liberty of an individual, the right to property and similar serious matters.”

HRA is composed of a series of sections that have the effect of codifying the protections in the ECHR into UK law.

Article 14 of the Human Rights Act, which affords protection from discrimination, has been used in many legal cases to argue for protection for LGBTI people.

All public bodies (such as courts, police, local governments, hospitals, publicly funded schools, and others) and other bodies carrying out public functions have to comply with ECHR and can be challenged in domestic courts if they proven to violate it.

ECHR is also incorporated directly into the Scotland Act 1998 with regards to the Scottish government and ministers (sections: 29(2)(d) and 57(2)), no act or law or action can violate it or HRA.

The new UK Scottish Secretary David Mundell told BBC Scotland that BBRR would apply north of the border.

He said: “New legislation replaces existing legislation and therefore the new act will apply in Scotland.”

He said people in Scotland shared “fears” about the “influence” of European courts.

With Scottish Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell weighing in and stating the proposal was an opportunity to “sort out” some of the “not inconsiderable” problems that have arisen from the incorporation of ECHR into Scots law.

This implies that the UK government would have to amend both the Scotland Act and seek the Scottish Parliament’s cooperation in amending laws in Scotland.

Alex Neil
Alex Neil

Responding to a parliamentary question by SNP MSP Mark McDonald, Scottish Secretary for Social Justice and Equalities, Alex Neil however, rejected the proposal and its implied prospects.

He said: “The Scottish Government’s position is that implementation of the Conservative Government’s proposals would require legislative consent and that this Parliament should make it clear that such consent will not be given.”

He further stated that “it would remain open to exclude Scotland from legislation to repeal the 1998 act or for the Scottish Government to pass legislation to give effect to a range of rights in policy areas that are within devolved competence.”

He warned that “If the UK Government followed through on its threats to withdraw from the European convention on human rights, people in Scotland would no longer be able to take cases to the ECtHR. The ECHR is the world’s most successful human rights treaty and it has been hugely influential around the world. It is incumbent on this Parliament to send a clear message that the proposals are unacceptable and will not receive our support.

Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said in a tweet that the Scottish government would fight any moves to scrap the Human Rights Act.

A further statement from the Scottish government said: “Any erosion of current protections would threaten fundamental rights and freedoms to which everyone in a modern democratic society is entitled. Inevitably, the most vulnerable in society would be hit the hardest.”

Scottish Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens have also sharply criticised the proposal.

Labour MSP Claire Baker said: “There is not a case for abolition and I firmly believe the Human Right Act should stay.

“It is appalling that one of the first acts of this Conservative Government is to abolish the Human Rights Act and to attempt to leave the ECHR but like many of their policies this is ideology and rhetoric being put above the actual practicalities and impact of delivering a policy.”

While Neil Findlay MSP described the policy as “the first grenade” in a “very bloody assault” on human rights.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The new Tory Government wants to put us in the same category as Kazakhstan in terms of how we view human rights.

“Liberal Democrats stopped the Tories scrapping the Human Rights Act and we are determined to keep fighting these plans.

“Parties need to work together across the UK to stop the Conservatives from taking away our hard-won human rights.

“The Conservative plans could have a far-reaching impact on every cog and wheel of society. We need to know exactly what that impact could be.

“The Scottish Secretary’s comments today indicate that his government haven’t even given the implications a second thought.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “Scrapping the Human Rights Act and abandoning the European Convention would be unjust and lead to fragmentation of rights here in Scotland, given the differing approaches of the UK and Scottish Governments and the mixture of devolved and reserved responsibilities.

“It would make it much harder to take cases to court, and it would strip our own citizens of basic rights, but also send a terrible message to the world that the UK is willing to disregard international human rights standards, undermining our ability to challenge overseas oppression.”

“It’s alarming to think that the UK Government’s effort will be led by Michael Gove, who once called for the return of hanging.

“This ideological assault must be opposed, and we must be prepared in this new political landscape to argue for devolution of responsibility for human rights so we can protect them.”

Daniel D. Jones, Equality and Human Rights Researcher, told KaleidoScot: “Human rights are of intrinsic importance to Scottish people, and Alex Neil’s response today reflects this.

“If the Conservative government plans on repealing HRA without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament, then any new legislation must mirror what is currently in place, and uphold the protections for all groups we cherish in Scotland.”

Veteran Human Rights Campaigner Peter Tatchell praised Sturgeon’s and the Scottish Government’s stance, telling KaleidoScot: “The HRA protects the individual against State abuses and discrimination. Abolishing it will strengthen the State at the expense of the citizen; reducing our power to get legal redress against injustice. Repeal would be a very a bad move that must be resisted in the name of liberty and equality.

“I applaud the Scottish government for taking such a strong stand against David Cameron’s proposed wrecking of human rights law. ”

Details about the Conservative government’s proposal for BBRR and their direct implications to Scotland will only be forthcoming following the Queen’s speech in two weeks time.

About Dan Littauer

Dan Littauer is a journalist who specializes in LGBTI current affairs, travel writing, feature writing and investigative journalism. He is a correspondent for LGBTQ Nation, ManAboutWorld, and previously worked for Gay Star News, PinkNews, San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, Gay Middle East, Lonely Planet as well as contributing occasionally to the BBC, Al-Jazeera, CNN and The Guardian. He also had an extensive career outside journalism, which included teaching psychoanalysis and social science, and consultancy work for the travel market. When he is not busy writing, he can be spotted rambling around the stunning Scottish landscape, where he lives, spending time at home with his cat.

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