Devolution as a Vehicle for Human Rights Protection and Progress: Incorporation of International Human Rights Obligations



Boyle K & Busby N (2022) Devolution as a Vehicle for Human Rights Protection and Progress: Incorporation of International Human Rights Obligations. Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly, Forthcoming.

Devolution provides both a foundation and a vehicle for progressive reform in relation to human rights. The article examines progress within the current framework, including the incorporation of international treaties, as recommended by the National Taskforce for human rights leadership in Scotland. Scotland’s planned incorporation of a number of international treaties provides an opportunity to embrace a number of normative standards, including progressive realisation, minimum core obligations as well as substantive equality measures. The particular nature of devolution provides the opportunity to close the accountability gap in the protection of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, many of which are devolved areas of law, such as the right to health, the right to housing and the right to a healthy environment. These measures of progress are examined in light of the risks posed to human rights by the erosion of devolution through a number of UK-led strategies, particularly in response to policy gaps as a result of Brexit. It is argued that devolution can act as an important anchor on national reform, mitigating threats to backslide on rights at the national level in this respect, however, increasing centralisation makes this difficult to realise in practice. The article sets out the potential opportunities if devolution was further enhanced, including a fully integrated operational human rights framework across a range of social and economic policy areas such as employment, social security, immigration and equality. Each of these areas are critically assessed offering insights into the potential reach as well as limitations of devolution as a force for human rights progress. It concludes with a reframing of human rights in the UK to reflect the more complex picture painted by diverging human rights trajectories in each of the UK jurisdictions and the roles played by different actors in relation to human rights reform.

Output Status: Forthcoming

Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly: Volume Forthcoming

Date accepted by journal08/03/2022

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Professor Katie Boyle
Professor Katie Boyle

Chair of International Human Rights Law, Law