SIAA Roundtable – Independent advocacy in new human rights law

On Thursday 29 July, SIAA hosted a roundtable for members on Independent advocacy in the new human rights law with Mhairi Snowden from Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS).

Independent advocacy plays an integral role in helping to ensure that an individual’s human rights are respected by offering access to justice on an equal and non-discriminatory basis with others. It does this by addressing issues of autonomy and choice, and by supporting an individual’s voice and opinions to be meaningfully heard. The Principles, Standards & Code of Best Practice for independent advocacy are based on an approach that promotes and defends human rights. Independent advocacy helps statutory services to practise a human rights-based approach.

At the roundtable, Mhairi Snowden provided some background on the international human rights’ legal framework and the importance of being able to enforce human rights in law by incorporating them in a bill. She highlighted the key role that Cultural, Economic, and Social rights play as ‘everyday rights’, along with specific human rights treaties that protect certain groups such as women, disabled people, and racial minorities. She explained how most of our internationally agreed human rights conventions – except for the ECHR and more recently UNCRC – are not yet incorporated in our law, limiting our access to this legal protection.

Furthermore, Mhairi gave an overview of the work of the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership, which was set up in December 2018, read the Taskforce’s final report here. In total, the Taskforce published 30 recommendations that were accepted by the Scottish Government including measures which will, for the first time, improve human rights on an environmental, social, economic, and cultural scale. The Scottish Government plan to introduce a new Human Rights Bill which will incorporate four United Nations Human Rights treaties into Scots Law, including legislation that enhances human rights for women, disabled people, and minority ethnic communities.

Although there was no explicit recommendation to incorporate independent advocacy from the Taskforce, independent advocacy came out as a key theme from the ‘All Our Rights In Law’ engagement work coordinated by Human Rights Consortium Scotland and the Scottish Human Rights Commission. It is also mentioned within the recommendation that there should be a ‘Human Rights Scheme’ where the Scottish Government will show progress in improving human rights realisation – one aspect of this is the provision of advocacy services.

Mhairi shared her concerns on the complexity of navigating the justice system and the importance of improving access to justice. The access to justice parts of the Taskforce recommendations are very much ‘unfinished business’ and there is a huge opportunity to ensure that independent advocacy is seen as a key part of access to justice.

Our members engaged in the conversation sharing their points of view, concerns, and expectations.

 

Independent advocacy in new human rights law key discussion points

Here is a summary of the key points that were considered:

Vulnerability and inequity

  • Concerns about people not knowing their own rights and therefore, not being able to access them.
  • Vulnerable people might not be treated as equals and have no access to their human rights.
  • Redefining the concept of ‘vulnerability’, vulnerability as a contextual element. If you cannot access justice, you’re vulnerable there and you need support.
  • Inequity on independent advocacy service provision and need to widening access to independent advocacy in Scotland. Some people cannot access independent advocacy based on where they live (‘postcode lottery’) or not meeting the service criteria. We need to consider current barriers to independent advocacy for all – where you live, service criteria and boundaries, having to define as with a certain characteristic e.g. disabled person within social security legislation, or in certain circumstances such as mental health-related detention.

Role of independent advocacy in the process to ensure human rights are respected

  • Access to independent advocacy would ensure earlier access to justice in the process with a human-rights-based approach.
  • Value of independent advocacy and human rights working together.
  • Importance of including collective advocacy.

Opportunities and questions

  • Increasing understanding across the public sector and civil society of what independent advocacy is is really important for convincing policymakers of its importance within the human rights framework.
  • Seizing the opportunity of putting independent advocacy in the discussion.
  • Importance of including people with lived experience as part of the process.
  • We need a legal right to independent advocacy but where this is already in law such as mental health legislation, there are still gaps in provision and resourcing of this. We need to therefore consider building in monitoring and reporting on advocacy provision within the new human rights framework.

Widening access to independent advocacy

  • Widening access to ensure that everyone could access independent advocacy could be seen as compromising organisations’ specialisms. How could this be addressed so breadth and depth of provision are considered?
  • Independent advocacy needs to be available across Scotland, but we also need to keep independent advocacy provision at a community level, as this would provide the best service to people and is more accessible.
  • What type of structure would we need? Does there need to be a national coordinating structure but local/community services? How would it be sustainable?
  • Where would the funding come from?

 

Resources

  1. All our rights in law: https://www.allourrightsinlaw.scot
  2. ‘Incorporation of Right to Independent Advocacy Briefing’: https://www.siaa.org.uk/information-hub/ia-incorporation-briefing
  3. ‘Advocating for Human Rights’: https://www.siaa.org.uk/information-hub/advocating-for-human-rights
  4. National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership ‘Final Report’: https://www.gov.scot/publications/national-taskforce-human-rights-leadership-report
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