Bill to incorporate UNCRC into Scots law watered down
Amendments to legislation incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will deliver a “clear, coherent and workable bill that provides some valuable protections for the rights of children in Scotland”, according to the Scottish government.
The UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in 2021 but certain provisions within it were later ruled ultra vires by the Supreme Court.
The bill requires all Scotland’s public authorities to take proactive steps to protect children’s rights and gives children, young people and their representatives a new ability to use the courts to enforce their rights.
Changes will be brought forward after the parliamentary recess which will mean public authorities will only be required to comply with the UNCRC requirements when delivering duties under powers in an act of the Scottish Parliament.
Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville told Holyrood that this is the only way to minimise the risk of a further referral to the Supreme Court, while also minimising the complexity for those using the legislation. However ministers will continue to call for the UK government to adopt the convention into UK law.
Ms Somerville said: “These proposals will result in a Bill that provides valuable protections for children’s rights and that does so in a way that is legally sound and is clear for users.
“It will also allow us to begin our journey to legislate for children’s rights and wider human rights and provide a solid legal foundation on which to build in the future. That would become easier if there was political commitment in Whitehall to legislate for children’s rights.
“Once again we find the democratic will of this Parliament blocked by Westminster. It remains true that the simplest way to secure protection for children’s rights, in Scotland and across the UK, and to do so as fully as possible, is for the UK Government to incorporate the UNCRC into UK law.”
Tweeting about the bill, Aileen McHarg, professor of public law and human rights at Durham University, said: “Very significant climb down by [the Scottish government] on the scope of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill.
“The duty on public authorities to comply with the Convention will now only apply to functions arising under Holyrood legislation; any broader approach has been ruled out as entailing either too high a risk of a further referral to the Supreme Court or too much complexity in practice.
“This will mean swathes of public functions affecting children are excluded from the duty to comply with the UNCRC.”