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by Kirsteen Paterson
10 May 2023
New timetable call over incorporation of UN Convention of the Rights of the Child in Scots Law

Shirley-Anne Somerville

New timetable call over incorporation of UN Convention of the Rights of the Child in Scots Law

Holyrood's human rights committee has called for answers from Shirley-Anne Somerville over "landmark" children's rights legislation.

Lack of progress is raising concerns amongst experts and leaves young people in the asylum system without adequate protections, it is claimed.

The Scottish Government's bid to incorporate UN laws on children's rights into Scots law was ruled incompetent by the UK Supreme Court in October 2021.

Passed unanimously by MSPs from across the political spectrum, the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill aimed to write the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law.

The convention is the most ratified human rights treaty in the world and the Scottish Government said its "landmark" legislation would make it the first devolved government to directly incorporate the UNCRC.

However, justices found it was outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament and encroached on matters reserved to Westminster.

The ruling came after UK law officers referred the matter to the court, provoking condemnation from then-first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Last year then-deputy first minister John Swinney said the SNP-Green administration would make changes in order to put the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) onto domestic statue books to the maximum extent of the Scottish Parliament's powers.

Holyrood's Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee has now called on Social Justice Secretary Somerville to lay out the timetable for the reconsideration of the bill.

In March, then-minister for children and young people, Clare Haughey, told the committee that the Scottish and UK governments were looking at amendments relating to public authorities acting under powers conferred by a UK act in a devolved area.

Revised amendments were shared with Westminster figures in March with a request that any "new and material concerns" be raised "within the next few weeks", with a view to progressing to Reconsideration Stage before summer recess.

Now convener Kaukab Stewart has written to Somerville to seek an update, saying experts appearing before the panel "have expressed concern to members about the lack of progress on the bill".

The include representatives of the Scottish Human Rights Commission and legal body JustRight Scotland.

Stewart wrote: "Other witnesses have told us that it is crucial the UNCRC is incorporated as soon as practicably possible to enable it to provide additional protections for children who are currently living within the asylum system."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "We remain committed to Scotland being the first UK nation to incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law, ensuring we are a country that respects, protects and fulfils children’s rights.

"Work to achieve this is well underway, including engagement with UK Government lawyers to try to reduce the risk of another referral to the Supreme Court on a revised bill, which could cause further delays. Legal issues around the bill are complex and consideration of these issues has taken longer than hoped. It is however important to get the bill right for children now and for generations of children to come."

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