The response highlights the importance of Commissioners to upholding rights, but recognises the risk of fragmentation.

The Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Public Administration Committee are conducting an inquiry into Scotland’s Commissioner Landscape, and the ALLIANCE has responded to the inquiry’s call for views. We have offered our support to several calls for commissioners in recent years, including the Patient Safety Commissioner, Older People’s Commissioner, and a Disability Commissioner, which we believe have the potential to deliver positive outcomes for the groups they would support.

We recognise however that taken as a whole, the range of calls for new commissioners represents a very significant increase in numbers. We have also become increasingly aware of concerns raised by the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) and the Finance and Public Administration Committee as to the sustainability of this growth. In addition, we have consistently called for the existing Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) to be further empowered and better resourced, bringing it in line with other National Human Rights Institutions in the UK.

In our response, the ALLIANCE:

  • Notes that the increasing number of proposed Commissioners reflects public service failures impacting the rights and wellbeing of many groups across society.
  • Suggests that in principle, the introduction of new Commissioners can lead to awareness raising and positive change for the people they are intended to support.
  • Recommends that the committee consider defining explicitly what roles may be appropriate for Commissioners, what powers they should be given as standard, and what powers may optionally be conferred depending on the role.
  • Recommends that a clearer distinction be drawn between the role and powers of Commissioners, suggesting that two of the primary roles would be Regulatory and Rights-Based Commissioners, whilst areas such as investigations and policy should be powers granted to Commissioners as a matter of course.
  • Notes that some of the proposals for new Commissioners do not necessarily align with the criteria “that no new officeholder should be proposed unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the function cannot be carried out by an existing body,” on the basis that the SHRC could, with adequate powers and funding, deliver such functions.
  • Recommends that rights holders and people with lived experience be heard in accountability processes, and that scrutiny of Commissioners involve the whole Scottish Parliament, not simply relevant subject committees.
  • Highlights concerns that if all the proposed new Commissioners were introduced, the Commissioner landscape may become highly fragmented, in a way that does not reflect the need for an intersectional approach that recognises that individuals may belong to multiple groups whose rights are at risk.
  • Recommends that the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government and SHRC investigate the potential of the “Rapporteurship model” the Commission outlined in its ‘At a Crossroads’ report in 2023.
  • Recommends that regardless of the exact structure of the SHRC, it be further empowered and adequately resourced in line with other Commissioners and other National Human Rights Institutions in the UK.

You can read the full consultation response via the resource links below.

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