Making Human Rights Justice A Reality

November 2nd 2023

Our Head of Legal Policy, Katy Nisbet reflects on the publication of the Making Human Rights Justice report including 13 call to actions, the barriers to rights enforcement and potential opportunities through the UNCRC Implementation Bill.

Today sees the publication of an important report into Making Human Rights Justice a Reality in Scotland.  Produced by Human Rights Consortium Scotland, JustRight Scotland, Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland, Shelter Scotland, Poverty Alliance, Clan Childlaw and JUSTICE it concludes with thirteen calls to action for the Scottish Government. These CTAs (Call To Actions) focus on eliminating barriers to accessing justice and aim to ensure that obtaining an effective remedy when your rights are breached is open it all.

As the report states access to justice is ‘a fundamental pillar of a fair and equitable society, ensuring that individuals have the means to seek legal remedies and uphold their rights’. With the amendment and implementation of the UNCRC Incorporation Bill hopefully imminent, and with the promise of a Human Rights Bill being introduced shortly after, this timely review of how and when people can access justice and an effective remedy is crucial to supporting the growth of a human rights culture in Scotland.

All thirteen CTAs provide an insight into the lived experiences of barriers that are faced when people seek to enforce their rights in Scotland.  These range from a lack of information and education about rights, exclusionary communication and ineffective non-court routes to justice to court specific barriers such as costs, rules and timescales.  At Clan we see the impact of these barriers in our case work.  Through our case work we see issues that impact groups of children.  But we work with individual clients, and we practice in a child centred way and always put the best interests of our clients at the heart of what we do.  This includes communicating in a child friendly manner and ensuring that every step of a process is explained in a way that our client understands.

Having to take the step to go to court to enforce their individual rights is a daunting prospect and not one that every child feels able to do.  To ask them to take a case to ensure system change for all is an extremely difficult ask, and very often simply not in their best interest.  The current rules in relation to who can raise an action and how that is funded mean that is exactly what a child has to do to change a law or policy for all.  To be able to challenge systemic issues by raising a case on their behalf would ensure that vulnerable children have their rights protected without having to put themselves in position of fronting a case.

When the UNCRC Implementation Bill comes in there may be more opportunity to take these cases, but there is still a test to meet to enable us to access the courts on their behalf.  There is no real guidance or certainty about that.  And, of course, its initial scope will be limited.   Creating court rules that make it clear the circumstances an NGO could litigate on behalf of vulnerable groups would increase our ability to protect more children from rights abuse.  Changing legal aid to include funding for group actions and introducing QOCS for human rights and equalities cases would also level the playing field.

And this is just one CTA – the others are equally as important and critical to achieve as a whole to ensure that access to justice for all.

To read the report, visit here.