Stirling academic outlines options for strengthening human rights laws and addressing poverty in Scotland

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Image of Dr Katie Boyle
Dr Katie Boyle, Associate Professor of International Human Rights Law

Scotland can show the world how human rights can be effectively enshrined in law, a Scottish Human Rights Commission report authored by a University of Stirling academic has suggested.

Dr Katie Boyle, Associate Professor of International Human Rights Law at Stirling, produced the report – which outlines models of incorporating international human rights standards into law – for the Commission, in the same week as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, visits the UK and Scotland to explore the links between poverty and human rights.

Image of Dr Katie Boyle

Dr Katie Boyle, Associate Professor of International Human Rights Law

Dr Boyle said: “Scotland can take the lead and demonstrate best practice in meeting international human rights obligations in devolved areas.”

The report, Models of Incorporation and Justiciability for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, highlights that people in Scotland have limited recourse to human rights laws when it comes to realising their economic, social and cultural rights. This accountability gap affects people’s rights to an adequate standard of living, health, housing, food and social security, among others.

Dr Boyle’s report details how countries around the world, from Germany and Sweden to South Africa and Argentina, have stronger laws and stronger accountability processes for economic, social and cultural rights than exist in Scotland. Around 65 countries globally, including 12 in Europe, explicitly enshrine these rights in their constitutions, while others such as Finland also build in parliamentary scrutiny of whether they are being implemented.

The report demonstrates the opportunity for Scotland to learn from these systems, building on its existing laws and legal remedies as well as parliamentary processes to better protect a broader range of human rights.

Dr Boyle said: “Comparative research demonstrates that it is possible to incorporate international human rights standards, including economic, social and cultural rights, across our governance structures. This is called a multi-institutional approach where responsibility for protecting rights is shared by the judiciary, executive and parliament.

“It is not so much about whether we can improve human rights protections but how best to do so, if the political will is there, within our unique devolved framework. This can include looking at new and innovative ways of ensuring access to effective remedies.

“Models of incorporation and justiciability mechanisms for economic, social, and cultural rights are key components of exploring these new avenues for human rights protection in Scotland.”


The report echoes comments made to Scotland by the Chair of the United Nations Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Virginia Brás Gomes, earlier this year, when she stated: “There is jurisprudence of many constitutional courts that proves that human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent, and therefore justiciable. Effective incorporation of international human rights standards enshrined in the UN core human rights treaties that are universal and interconnected is fundamental for sound, integrated and coherent economic and social policies.”

Welcoming the report, Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said: “The Commission knows from our work with people across Scotland that poverty and barriers to accessing health, housing and social security are of key concerns in their everyday lives. And yet, the international rights that correspond to these concerns - the rights to an adequate standard of living, housing, food, social security, education and work, have the least bite in our domestic law, and are given the least consideration in practice by public bodies.

“Scotland can and should reflect what’s happening in many other countries around the world. Taking action to better protect people’s rights by incorporating these international standards into domestic law is all the more important given the context of Brexit and the risks to rights this presents.

“As we await recommendations later this year from the First Minister’s Advisory Group on Human Rights Leadership, this research shows there is a wealth of international experience and practice – in court rooms and parliaments – for Scotland to learn, replicate and build on when it comes to protecting all of our economic, social and environmental rights.”

Stirling was ranked 16th in the UK for Law in the Times Good University Guide 2019. In the last Research Excellence Framework (2014), Law at Stirling was rated the best in Scotland for research quality. In January 2019, the Division of Law and Philosophy will launch a new Masters in Human Rights and Diplomacy.

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