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Scottish Human Rights Commission raises almost 200 Scottish human rights concerns to the UN

Anthony Devlin/PA

Scottish Human Rights Commission raises almost 200 Scottish human rights concerns to the UN

Police Scotland’s use of new technologies such as facial recognition and cyber kiosks was of particular concern, as were the “unacceptable” conditions for some people in prisons

The Scottish Human Rights Commission has warned of “serious gaps” in the protection of human rights in Scotland, after the body brought nearly 200 human rights concerns to the United Nations (UN).

Police Scotland’s use of new technologies such as facial recognition and cyber kiosks was of particular concern, as were the “unacceptable” conditions for some people in prisons.

The commission called on the Scottish Government to respond to these concerns to make sure Scotland is “a place where everyone’s rights are realised in full”.

The concerns are detailed in a report sent to the UN Human Rights Committee on the implementation of internationally agreed human rights in Scotland.

It said that there are “insufficient legal frameworks and oversights” for Police Scotland’s use of new biometric technologies such as facial recognition and cyber kiosks, which allow officers to bypass encryption to read personal data from certain digital devices without a password.

While Police Scotland said the Crown Office and independent senior counsel had now confirmed the legal basis for use of cyber kiosks, the commission said that it is “not satisfied” that the use of those devices complies with the standards of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).

“The current framework or the lack of it does not provide sufficient and robust safeguards for people’s privacy rights in this context” the commission said.

The commission also criticised Police Scotland’s disproportionate use of strip-searches on women and children.

Prison and detention conditions for some people in Scotland is described by the commission as “unacceptable”.

In particular, the commission urged the end of the use of small 1m square holding cells – known as “dog-boxes” – in Barlinnie prison.

Overcrowding across the prison service is leading to knock-on effects, the commission said, including people on remand being held in the same facilities as convicted prisoners.

The commission recommended the UN ask the Scottish Government to provide “an update on plans to reduce the prison population and improve prison conditions and reintegration”.

Deaths in custody are also highlighted as an issue, with the commission saying that the current arrangements for investigating “do not comply with the requirements set out in Article 2 of the ECHR”.  

“Gaps” in people’s access to justice were also identified, including the disproportionate impact of reductions in legal aid on women, disabled people and other groups.

The commission also warned that the not-proven verdict in Scottish courts was impacting justice for victims of rape and sexual assault, and urged the Scottish Government to look into scrapping the verdict.

Judith Robertson, chair of the commission, said: “Civil and political rights include rights like privacy, freedom from inhumane treatment by the state and access to justice.

“Everyone has these rights, as set out in international human rights treaties. In reality, as our latest comprehensive assessment shows, there are some serious gaps in how some of these rights are currently upheld in Scotland.

“We remain concerned that police use of new technologies such as ‘cyber kiosks’ and facial recognition is outstripping the adequate protection for people’s rights required from our legal frameworks and oversight mechanisms.

“People in prisons and other places of detention are experiencing conditions that are unacceptable, and fall far short of the standards needed to protect some of their rights.

“People’s access to justice more broadly continues to be undermined by the impact of reduced legal aid and a lack of access to independent advocacy.

“There are also particular challenges around how the justice system deals with rape and sexual assault, and the continued need to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in line with international recommendations.

“We have seen some progress in some areas since our last report to the United Nations on civil and political rights in 2015. That is welcome.

“We would now like to see the Scottish Government address the concerns raised in this latest report with a detailed set of commitments. This would help ensure that Scotland becomes a place where everyone’s rights are realised in full.”

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