Luke Padfield, one of our volunteer Equalities Ambassadors, attended a seminar along with another of our ambassadors Nada Shawa on Brexit and its implications for rights at the end of March on behalf of EaRN. He has written a short piece about it below:
The event Brexit: rights, risks and responsibilities: what’s at stake for human rights in Scotland? Was attended by some 60 delegates from a variety of organisations. A relatively low turn out. The meeting began with a number of academics setting out what the legislative landscape looks like at the moment and how that landscape is likely to change as Brexit progresses. It is worth noting that nobody really knows how Brexit will affect the human rights landscape and a lot of what we were hearing represented the academics best guess based on their experience of legal change.
Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights
The main point that everybody seemed to agree on was that as we exit the EU we will lose the protections guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Discussion on this topic was qualified with the fact that the Charter only applies in situations that envoke EU law, however a number of rights such the right to data protection that are guaranteed by the Charter will be substantially weakened.
Employment, including Health and Safety and Equality
This thread was reiterated by all the speakers. That the loss of the Charter will not only mean the loss of the guarantees in areas like employment and equality that the Charter protects but that the removal of the Charter from UK law will mean that the other piece of legislation that guarantees rights in the UK, the European Convention on Human Rights, will be more vulnerable.
Also, in areas like human rights and the environment the loss of particular enforcement measures guaranteed by the EU system will mean that remedies may become soft. In this area human rights are procedural rather than substantive (i.e. there is no substantive right to a clean healthful environment). Rights in this area include access to justice and access to timely information and while these rights will still be guaranteed by other international obligations that the UK has (i.e. the Aarhus convention) the enforcement mechanisms supplied by our membership of the EU will be lost.
Round table discussion
In the round table discussion an interesting point was raised by a woman arguing from personal experience that the mental health act was illegal. She pointed out that if rights aren’t enforceable then they are useless. A panel member acknowledged what she was saying in terms of financial capacity to pursue a case but she insisted that even with legal aid support, if the right itself wasn’t enforceable in the court then it was still next to useless.
Much of the discussion focused on what Scotland could actually do to guarantee rights in the face of this change. There were some in attendance who welcomed the notion of a Scottish Bill of Rights but it was highlighted by the panel that the fact that many areas like employment are reserved matters and so the opportunity to establish new rights based laws are limited.
Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping the Scottish Parliament from recognising a right to a healthy environment as health, environment and human rights are all within the competencies of the devolved legislature.