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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 08:50 GMT 09:50 UK

UK Politics

Minister hears human rights plea

Campbell and Steele: A high-profile human rights case

Scotland's Justice Minister Jim Wallace is being asked to set up an independent commission on human rights.

The call has been made at a conference in Glasgow organised by the Scottish Human Rights Trust.

A senior United Nations official from Geneva attended the conference - the first time the UN has visited Scotland to discuss human rights in the country.

Trust spokesman Douglas Hamilton said: "It will provide politicians and officials the chance to benefit from extensive international experience in human rights protection.

"It will also provide the deputy first ministerwith his first public opportunity to proclaim the new government's stance on the issue of human rights."

New directive

A new European Human Rights directive comes into force in October 2000.

Mr Hamilton said this would change the way in which courts and the Scottish Parliament make their decisions.

A commission must be independent and have an advisory role before the law is changed, he said.

It must also be able to investigate any human rights abuses and have the power to stop them.

[ image: Jim Wallace: Issue on executive's agenda]
Jim Wallace: Issue on executive's agenda
One of Scotland's highest-profile human rights cases is that of Joseph Steele and Thomas TC Campbell, who were convicted of murdering six people in Glasgow's ice-cream wars in 1984.

The pair have constantly protested their innocence and have fought a campaign in Europe and beyond to win their freedom.

They were freed pending an appeal but were sent back to prison when judges decided they could not hear fresh evidence in the case.

The idea for a comission was contained in the Liberal Democrats' Scottish Parliament election manifesto but was not part of the coalition deal with Labour.

In his speech, his first since he became justice minister, Jim Wallace said there were still many questions to be answered.

However, the possibility of a commission remained on the government's agenda.

Jim Wallace: "I'm here to listen"
Mr Wallace told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland there was merit in subjecting proposed legislation to independent scrutiny.

"I'm here to listen and to hear the arguments as they are put forward," he said.

"The issue of human rights is very much at the core of what this new settlement is Scotland is about."

Mr Wallace will also outline his plans for tackling crime and for improving the quality of justice in Scotland.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commissioner Brice Dickson also addressed the conference, at which the Scottish trust's web-site was launched.

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