The Scottish Human Rights Commission has responded to the UK Government’s consultation on its proposals to replace the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights.

The response details extensive concerns about the regressive impact of the planned changes, including concerns about the "watering down" of human rights protections through a project which is based on "false premises", "employs a flawed consultation process" and "will deliver primarily negative outcomes" for people across the UK.

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Barbara Bolton, the Legal and Policy leader at the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said: “The UK Government’s plan to replace the Human Rights Act with a new Bill of Rights signals an intent to water down human rights protections, erect additional barriers to accessing justice and equivocate on compliance with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights involving the UK.

“If passed, these proposals would be deeply regressive, undermining 20 years of human rights law and policy development across the UK, making it harder for people to enforce their rights and putting the UK in breach of its international obligations. This should be of grave concern to us all.”

Some of the report's key points were:

  • "The UK Government’s plan is a project based on false premises, employs a flawed consultation process and will deliver primarily negative outcomes for the people and institutions of the UK."
  • "Over 20 years, the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) in UK courts, through the Human Rights Act, has had a significant, positive impact on people across the UK in many areas, including: children, disability, equality, health, justice, privacy, religion and belief, rights at work, seeking refuge, speech and protest and victims of crime."
  • "The Commission does not accept the premise there is lack of 'ownership' of human rights. In Scotland, there is longstanding support for human rights. Over 200 civil society organisations have signed the Scotland Declaration on Human Rights, expressing their united support for ensuring that Scotland is a world leader in rights protection and implementation."
  • "Additional proposals would add a number of significant hurdles to accessing justice, compounding existing barriers related to the complexity of law and procedure, the cost of securing legal advice and the lack of legal aid."
  • "If, as proposed, national courts must interpret rights distinctly from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the result will be legal conflict, confusion, uncertainty, and a likely increase in successful referrals to the ECtHR. The additional proposal of a 'democratic shield,' expressly permitting the UK to decline to implement ECtHR decisions against it, would put the UK in clear breach of the Convention and undermine the rule of law."
  • "The UK Government has disregarded the outcome of its own Independent Human Rights Act Review (IHRAR). The IHRAR took evidence from across the UK for nine months, producing a detailed report and concluding there is no case for the kind of widespread reform the UK Government has put forward."

    The report also asserted that it was vital that "such a fundamental piece of legislation should not be introduced without direct, active participation of people whose rights will be most affected by any changes". It also added that in "the absence of a truly participative process, the Commission considers the consultation exercise to be flawed".

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It also highlighted the complexity in the interrelationship between the Human Rights Acts and devolution – as the act itself is embedded into the Scotland Act 1988.

The commission also argued that the convention rights have become "part of the fabric" of Scotland's laws and societal attitudes. And, therefore, disentangling them would cause a breakdown to this positive dimension to devolution; a Scotland built on a rights-based culture, a culture which the Scottish Parliament and Scotland as a whole have sought to create.

It added: "The Commission strongly urges the UK Government to comply in full with its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and retain the Human Rights Act in its current form."