Headed in the Rights direction?

Written by: Ian Welsh, Chief Executive, the ALLIANCE

Published: 21/09/2015

ALLIANCE Chief Executive Ian Welsh, calls for a joint approach to support and defend the Human Rights Act 1998.

Two weeks ago, as the Scottish Parliament debated Amnesty International’s latest campaign “Do The Human Right Thing: Keep The Human Rights Act” I was struck by some of the stories emerging from MSPs about the use of the Human Rights Act in health and social care settings.

Christina McKelvie MSP told the story of Jan, who lives with MS, who noted that the existence of the Act helped her to “feel strong – strong enough to search for the support to challenge my local council.”  Meanwhile, Labour’s Malcolm Chisholm noted that the Act was used to successfully persuade a local authority to enable an elderly couple to stay in the same care home.

As such, any threat to its continuation should be taken very seriously.  Like many, I was dismayed that on re-election in May, the UK Government confirmed that it will “bring forward proposals for a British Bill of Rights”, effectively replacing the Human Rights Act (and the conventions to which it ties us).

The value of the act has been felt by so many people whose voice is often the least heard.  The stories above, and a range of case studies produced by the SNAP Action Group on Health and Social Care (which the ALLIANCE co-convenes), show in very real terms how human rights-based approaches can be a practical tool to support people who access health and social care services and put into clear focus the things that matter to them.

Recently on these pages, Professor Alan Miller, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, wrote that “any proposals to change the UK’s human rights laws must pass a very simple test: do the changes take us forwards or back?”.  Our fear is that, rather than enabling people’s rights to be realised, any change in the legislative landscape will lead to an undermining of rights for people at greater risk of being marginalised and remove recourse where the state fails to protect their human rights.

Recently the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, reaffirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Act.  The ALLIANCE supports this approach, but whilst politicians will discuss what comes next, we must not allow such a regressive change to slip through.  Civil society has a role in highlighting and opposing this threat – because the value of doing so is ensuring the realisation of people’s rights as fundamental to improving our society.

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