Human rights laws: Call to ensure any changes enhance protection

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Image caption The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

Politicians have been urged to ensure human rights protections are stronger following the General Election.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) said any changes to the legal system would have a direct impact on the lives of people living in Scotland.

Its report on the future of human rights legislation said an undercurrent of debate about changing the laws was "regressive" in nature.

It called on all parties to ensure human rights laws go forward not back.

The chairman of SHRC, Prof Alan Miller, said its report set out a test for any proposals to change the UK's human rights laws.

He said: "We must not allow regressive changes to slip through, or opportunities to improve people's lives to be missed. All of us deserve better than that."

Direct impact

Prof Miller added: "Changes to the UK's human rights laws would have a direct impact on the lives of people in Scotland, particularly in areas like immigration, defence and some aspects of welfare."

He said there had been some notable legal successes in Scotland using human rights laws.

They included a judgement against a local authority for withdrawing provision of a carer for a disabled former ballet dancer, and challenges against the so-called "bedroom tax".

There have been a number of suggestions from politicians that human rights laws should be modified, for instance when a person has broken the law or immigration regulations.

Carer case

Elaine McDonald, a disabled former Scottish Ballet dancer, brought a case against her local authority when it stopped providing her with a night carer to help her use the toilet.

Although she lost her case on other issues, the judgement by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg established that a failure to consider a person's dignity can be a breach of Article 8, the right to a private and family life.

This has been seen as an important ruling by disabled people and organisations campaigning for their rights to be realised in practice.

Army casualties

The families of several soldiers killed in Iraq, when their vehicles were hit by roadside bombs, sued the Ministry of Defence using the HRA.

The UK Supreme Court found that the Government owed a duty of care to properly equip and train soldiers sent to war as part of its duty to protect the right to life.

Reversing this would be a backwards step in realising the rights of Scottish soldiers on operations overseas.

The Conservatives have said they were prepared to scrap the Human Rights Act (HRA) and review the UK's relationship with European courts which oversee it.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the party was also considering the "nuclear option" of withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) after the next election.

He told the Tory conference in September 2014: "Rulings to stop us deporting suspected terrorists. The suggestion that you've got to apply the convention on the battlefields of Helmand.

"And now they want to give prisoners the vote. I'm sorry I just don't agree."

He said there would be a new British bill of rights to be passed in Westminster.

But SHRC said such a move would send a damaging message across Europe and beyond, weakening the international system of human rights as a whole.

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