The Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights Bill, published by the Executive on Monday 10 October, will establish an independent Commissioner to ensure that human rights in Scotland are protected in law, policy and practice. The watchdog will have the power to investigate public bodies to ensure their compliance.
The Scottish Commissioner for Human Rights (SCHR) will be accountable to the Parliament, and will have the general duty to promote awareness and understanding of, and respect for, human rights. The Bill gives the Commissioner certain other specific functions in support of the general duty, including: monitoring law, policy and practice; providing information, advice, guidance, and education; carrying out inquiries; and intervening in civil court proceedings. The Commissioner will be able conduct inquiries into general human rights issues, but will not be able to investigate, support or rule on individual cases.
Deputy Education Minister Robert Brown said communities deserved to have policies and practices which were sensitive to human rights.
"This Bill will allow people to gain a better understanding of how human rights can benefit them individually and collectively, while helping and empowering them to assert those rights much more effectively," he said.
The SCHR's remit will cover all international human rights instruments that the UK has ratified, although he or she will be required to have particular regard to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, the SCHR will deal only with human rights issues relating to devolved matters. Human rights issues relating to reserved matters will be the responsibility of the new Great Britain Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which is to be established by the Equality Bill currently before the Westminster Parliament. The CEHR will not be able to act on human rights in relation to matters that are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, unless it has the consent of the Commissioner. The SCHR will be expected to work closely with the CEHR and other relevant bodies.
The office of the SCHR will comprise one Commissioner and up to two Deputies with associated staff. The Commissioner will be funded with £1m a year from the Scottish Executive.
A commitment to introduce this Bill was included in the Partnership Agreement, and it was drafted following consultations in 2001 and 2003. The Scottish Parliament's Justice 1 Committee has invited individuals and interested parties to submit their views on the Bill by 18 November.