Call for Scottish Parliament to establish a Human Rights Committee

Published: 9 May 2012

The Scottish Parliament should establish a separate Human Rights Committee because the current committee system has failed to adequately consider human rights issues.

The Scottish Parliament should establish a separate Human Rights Committee because the current committee system has failed to adequately consider human rights issues.  

In a report produced for the Cross Party Group on Human Rights at Holyrood deficiencies in approach were found in several of the existing structures, most notably the Justice Committee. For example, the report notes that when discussing issues such as inclusivity of the justice system, legal aid and prisons, the Committee did not make reference to human rights which the authors found “extremely concerning.”

Dr Kurt Mills, Senior Lecturer in International Human Rights at the University of Glasgow and Convenor of the Glasgow Human Rights Network which produced the report said:

“We found that whilst there is some consideration of human rights at Holyrood, consideration of such issues is haphazard at best. The committee with the official mandate for human rights, the Justice Committee, exhibits, according to the report, "a reductive and sceptical pattern of attitude towards human rights." It rarely makes reference to the regional and global human rights regimes of which the UK is a member, and when it does it appears to see human rights merely as a constraint on the administration of criminal justice.”

“It is clear that for the Scottish Parliament to adequately live up to human rights obligations found in the UK Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights, and many other international human rights instruments to which the UK is a party, it needs a mechanism whereby all relevant legislation can be considered from a human rights perspective. Current arrangements are not adequate. The most reasonable course of action is to create a human rights committee within the Scottish Parliament to act as a focal point for such review and discussion.”

The findings of the report have been backed by politicians and representatives from civic Scotland. The Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on Human Rights is the SNP MSP John Finnie: 
 “This report is an important examination of Parliament’s committee system’s consideration of human rights issues.  I am sure that the Parliamentary authorities will give the report appropriate consideration including a review of the need for a Parliamentary human rights committee.” 

That view was endorsed by Shabnum Mustapha, Director of Amnesty International Scotland:  
"Amnesty International welcomes the findings of the report which has cast a light on some of the missed opportunities to raise human rights as part of Scottish Parliamentary scrutiny of legislation. We urge the Scottish Parliament to look at how human rights considerations can be better embedded in the work of the Parliament." 


Carole Ewart, Convener of The Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS), also voiced her support:

“The Human Rights Consortium Scotland welcomes the report which confirms the anecdotal experiences of our members that human rights are insufficiently addressed by committees in the Scottish Parliament. We repeat our call, first made in early May 2011, that the Scottish Parliament establishes a Human Rights Committee to ensure transparency, accountability and compliance with human rights law and with Section 29 of the Scotland Act.  We believe that mainstreaming  human rights across its business will improve the design, delivery and funding of public services, reduce risk of spending public money on compensation payments and  prioritise spend on the people who need services the most.”


The report can be accessed via:

For more information contact Peter Aitchison in the University of Glasgow Media Relations Office on 0141 330 7350 or email

First published: 9 May 2012

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