Page last updated at 13:02 GMT, Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Justice Committee 1

The chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) told the Justice Committee people could have "less protection" if a UK bill of rights replaced the Human Rights Act (HRA).

He was giving evidence as MSPs considered UK government plans to set up a commission on a UK bill of rights, on Tuesday 6 December 2011.

The Conservatives want to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a bill of rights, after Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to "get a grip" on cases where the current laws were used inappropriately.

Professor Alan Miller said the Human Rights Act was an "effective way of incorporating the European Convention" and he proposed instead of the bill of rights a "national action plan" focussing on improving peoples lives.

He also said the impetus for the commission was "Westminster centric", created in a "politicised climate" and the process was "backward and inward looking" and this was "not the most fertile time to have this kind of debate."

Professor Miller also warned that, should a UK Bill of Rights be introduced and the Human Rights Act be repealed, the Scotland Act may have to be changed as a result of the Scottish government wanting to instead keep the European Convention on Human Rights in place.

He said this could lead to the "unintended consequence" of a two-tier system across the UK, a situation which may mean "someone in Gateshead would have less protection than someone in Glasgow."

Lord McCluskey also appeared before the committee and said: "there is something seriously wrong, in my view, with the system."

He exemplified the case of Scottish prisoners being compensated as a result of "slopping out", which he said was "an outrageous decision" which wouldn't have been arrived at without the Europpean legislation.

Professor Miller retorted: "HRA shone a light on some of these practices which needed to be improved" and "we need to be big enough to accept things we didn't get right" because of a lack of leadership.

Lord McCluskey disagreed and said the justice minister at the time did his duty as a leader, making a choice to spend the budget, not on en-suite facilities, but on rehabilitation.

However, he continued because of HRA "money which was meant for rehabilitation of offenders has gone in to the pockets of those who had to endure the same privations as I endured for the first 30 years..or 25 years..of my life, sometimes going out to the shed in the garden to visit the loo."

Patrick Layden QC and Professor Chris Himsworth from University of Edinburgh also gave evidence.

In the second part of the committee, which can be viewed below, Amenesty International backs the "concept of a bill of rights" but only if it builds on the current Human Rights Act.

Justice Committee 2


Justice Committee membership

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