The Scottish Executive has published the Scottish Commissioner for
Human Rights Bill with the aim of promoting human rights in Scotland.
The proposed Scottish Commissioner, who will have an initial annual
budget of £1,000,000, has amongst his duties, an obligation to promote
understanding of rights prescribed by the Human Rights Act 1998, to
monitor the law and the policy and practices of public authorities.
The remit of the Commissioner is largely a promotional one. His
abilities to enforce the law are extremely limited. Whilst awareness
schemes are beneficial, this is only true to a certain degree. The
powers to undertake inquiries and intervene in court actions provided
by the Bill are rather limited. The ability to conduct inquiries is
restricted by the provision that no inquiry may take place into a
particular authority, unless it is the only one of its type or it is an
inquiry into torture related matters. Further, the fact that the
Commissioner cannot conduct an inquiry into the policies and practices
of any Scottish public authority in relation to a particular case seems
restrictive. This may have the result that the Commissioner will be
prevented from conducting an inquiry into the policies and practices of
a particular public authority even if that authority had been the
subject of several human rights complaints in the last year. The
alternative to that argument is that if such powers were given to the
Commissioner, the workload would be far greater and, in turn, the costs
of funding such a position would be far higher.
There is also a new Commission being proposed at a UK level for all
areas of discrimination and human rights. The Equality Bill, if
enacted, will create the Commission for Equality and Human Rights which
will be responsible for promoting and enforcing all current and
imminent discrimination laws across the Uk, including Scotland, as well
as human rights although only in England and Wales and in relation to
public authorities in Scotland which are regulated by Westminster.