Making Human Rights Justice a Reality Report shines a light on systemic barriers to justice and how to break them

background slide from presentation report

 

by Maisie Wilson  

Over the past few months, we have been working with the Human Rights Consortium Scotland (HRCS) on their latest report Make Human Rights Justice a Reality, along with Clan Childlaw, Justice, Environmental Rights Centre Scotland (ERCS), Poverty Alliance, and Shelter Scotland. The report contains 13 ambitious yet practical calls to action, setting out reforms needed to dismantle the systemic barriers to justice that individuals and communities face in Scotland.  

Access to justice is a fundamental human right and means that people not only need to understand what their rights are, but also what they can do if their rights are violated.  

The report is grounded in the lived experience of both communities and individuals who have tried to access justice or remedy, as well as organisations who work with people who face barriers to justice. HRCS worked with a diverse range of civil society groups, using the evidence as a starting point for drafting the 13 calls to action. A Lived Expertise in Access to Justice report was published in tandem with the above report to summarise the experiences given to the HRCS by the groups they worked with.
 

 2nd November 2023 – Launch of the Report 
In early November, we attended the launch of both reports, hosted by HRCS, at the Scottish StoryTelling Centre. The evening began with an introduction from the Director of the HRCS, Mhairi Snowden, and the premiere of an animated video to highlight key elements of the report. This was followed by insight into the uphill struggle in access to justice that many people face, as set out by HRCS Senior Policy Officer Lucy Miller. One of the most poignant parts of the evening was the Speaking from experience: Trying to Access Justice section that swiftly followed. This began with Manuel Tjivera highlighting the obstacles they went through when entering the asylum system in the UK, specifically when trying to find useful information about this process.
 

  • Lived experience experts sharing their stories  

Manuel candidly explained that it was not from an official source that they were told they needed to access the services of a lawyer, but instead from a family that were put in the same hotel as them. Individuals that arrive in the UK, after an all-too-often traumatising journey, are welcomed with little to no information on how to begin the long and multi-staged asylum process. Manuel clearly depicted an isolating experience of our asylum system, outlining why there is a need for quality legal processes and the availability of inclusive and accessible information and support from when an individual arrives in the UK and throughout their asylum application.  

Talal Elbishari then spoke of their experience of the information they were able to access when they arrived in the UK, and were placed in one of the many Mears Hotels as per the Home Office’s policy. When one arrives at their temporary asylum accommodation (primarily a privately-contracted hotel) they will often be provided with a booklet outlining British values. Talal was given one of these booklets in Arabic, and whilst reading through it discovered transphobic and homophobic language regarding LGBT+ communities in the UK. Conversely, the language used in the English booklets did not strike a similar tone. After looking into the situation further, Talal contacted Migrant Help and over the following months continued to follow up on the matter which remains unresolved. Talal outlined the fear that when LGBT+ people come to the UK seeking safety, the message they willl receive from the UK government will still use transphobic and homophobic phrasing if they are Arabic speaking, despite their efforts to help make a positive change.  

Both Manuel and Talal’s experience of the asylum process highlighted the lack of accessible human rights information and inclusive communications avaialable to people arriving in the United Kingdom. People are provided with little to no information on how the asylum process works, and with discriminatory and incorrect information depending on what language they speak. The asylum process already perpetuates a culture of fear and high emotion, with autonomy removed from the individual, compounded by a ruthless process consumed by multiple stages and deadlines.  

 

  • JustRight Scotland’s support for 13 Calls to Action: we need to introduce a radical reform of the legal aid system 

JustRight Scotland’s Director Jen Ang spoke on the experiences learnt from an organisational perspective. Beginning by breaking down what access to justice is, Jen outlined how people who enjoy privilege are more likely to have their rights respected. The crux of the issue is that we need to bridge the gap between what rights are afforded to people in law, and what the reality of this actually looks like.  In legal terms, this results in the need to incorporate substantive rights – such as those outlined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) – into Scots Law, with the recent Scottish Human Rights Bill draft falling short of this ambition. A barrier for many attempting to access justice is legal aid – to which Jen Ang called for a radical reform. Legal aid needs to be treated as the vital public service that it is – and all who strive for positive change in both the legal and human rights sector should be concerned with the matter. Dignity needs to be embedded in seeking legally aided advice, and individuals should be afforded the highest standard. Currently, Legal aid as a way of accessing justice is too narrow and more needs to be done to extend this.  

The final panellist of the evening was Dr Shivali Fifield from the Environmental Rights Centre Scotland (ERCS), who emphasised the need for: awareness raising of environmental rights; advocacy; and specialist public interest litigation. Environmental issues more often than not affect a large number of people or entire communities rather than just one individual. However, there are very stringent rules as to who is able to raise legal challenge due to the ‘victim test’ and  ‘sufficient interest’ test which must be met before raising a legal claim. Shivali discussed recent ERCS cases taken with the Good Law Project and the Legal Services Agency, and the inventive yet logical ways that we can rebalance the unfair power dynamics in environmental litigation and how legal aid should be reformed to empower individuals to demand a healthy environment.  

 

8th November 2023 – Presenting the Report at the #SCVOGathering
Alongside HRCS, we presented the Report at the #SCVOGathering to highlight why the Report was released, what the 13 calls to action are and how organisations can join this campaign calling on the Scottish Government to incorporate all of our international human rights into Scots law.  

Our CEO Emma Hutton, talking about the value of accessing justice, explained that the latest Scottish Government’s consultation on a new Scottish Human Rights Bill is intertwined with the need to introduce radical reform of legal aid as “rights are not real if they are not accessible.”  In Scotland, it’s necessary to reform the current legal aid system to improve access to justice, to transform access to independent legal advice and advocacy as a public service, core to the infrastructure of the wider access to justice system, and to rethink how resources are used to making rights real in Scotland.   

Emma explained: “We believe that this, alongside a bolder approach to the Scottish Human Rights Bill, could begin to unlock justice for people who are locked out at the moment, excluded by all the barriers we’ve spoken about today.”   

Both events were important and powerful, as they allowed attendees to view a snapshot of the background behind the 13 calls to action from those who have experienced barriers to accessing justice themselves, and from organisations who work to support these individuals and communities.  

Make Human Rights Justice a Reality is more than just a report or a campaign, it is a necessary change needed to Scottish society if we are to be considered a nation that not only signs up to international human rights standards, but implements them. As noted in the lived-experience report, ‘Human rights don’t exist if they’re not universal.’  

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