Under The Scotland Act, the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament are required to comply with those rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights with Judges now having to take account of the Convention in deciding cases. For the first time, individuals who consider that their Convention rights have been infringed will have the right to seek redress in Scottish courts. But does this happen in practice? Are the Scottish Authorities flaunting the Human Rights Act in the face of those very people that it is supposed to protect?
The Scotland Act and The Human Rights Act, taken together, are supposed to represent a major step forward in building a modern and effective human rights culture in Scotland. For the first time, Scots should be able to enforce their basic human rights in Scottish courts instead of having to incur the cost and delay of taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. As can be seen in this case however, there is a clear resistance by Sheriffs and Judges to enact certain requirements of the Human Rights Act when it comes to a fair trial. The pompous comments by one Prosecutor in John's case to the effect that she could do whatever she liked once a person is returned to Scotland and more to the point, condoned by the trial Judge, underlines just how the old school of thought continues to smother modern-day law. There is however some evidence of clear direction by Law Lords to the effect that the judiciary are now bound to take cognisance of the means and methods employed by the UK and other jurisdictions to repatriate their own citizens from abroad. This case aside, there are many recent examples of how the Scottish Government has recently attempted to deny human rights to its own citizens.
The Scottish Human Rights Centre in Glasgow being the only such centre in the whole of Scotland was closed down due to a lack of funds, basically the Government didn't want it to operate so effectively pulled the plug. You will find a link on a Government website which will take you to a page which hasn't been updated since August 2004. There are several other human rights organisations within the United Kingdom but are limited in what they offer. The Liberty organisation like so many others do not offer any advice in relation to Scots Law and your human rights. The recently renamed Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland is really only concerned with equality issues and doesn't offer any advice in relation to The Law in Scotland. It's website does however promise a link in a few months time, really big effort there then after 4 years! You might want to have a look at ScottishHumanRights.org.uk, this site explains the situation in much greater detail and elaborates on the frustrations experienced by Scottish citizens when seeking to pursue their own human rights in Scotland.
The situation was also widely publicised some time ago when thousands of prisoners and former prisoners sued the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Executive in what was referred to as the slopping-out fiasco. The Scottish Government (Labour) had for years refused to admit that many Scottish prisoners were being detained in inhuman conditions within the prison estates. A High Court Judge chose to find the converse and ruled that each and every prisoner was entitled to compensation. The Scottish Government has now been forced to admit defeat and compensate thousands of prisoners in the magic sum of €3000 (£2100) each, an amount which equates with similar cases in former eastern bloc countries such as Croatia, Lithuania, Estonia, Moldova, and Bulgaria. Seems that Scotland is comparable with these former Soviet territories where €3000 would buy you a house? Justice on the cheap we believe and surprise, surprise, no-one has been held accountable for this farce and the squandering of public funds. The former Labour administration had an appalling record in relation to human rights in Scotland confirmed by the number of legal actions which went against them. Unfortunately, politically appointed remnants of this group still linger in elevated positions within the Justice System.
"...authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race,
all through history, mankind has been bullied by scum!" - P.J. O'Rourke.
Then there was the situation in early 2007 when Scottish prisoners demanded the right to vote in local elections as was their right under the Human Rights Act (see press article). This followed a successful test case in England later confirmed by the High Court in Edinburgh. Prisoners were not only prevented from voting but were effectively blocked from taking any effective legal action by the Scottish judiciary. Prisoners were for the most part denied legal aid funding in order to bring an action against the Scottish Executive thus denying them any chance of a referral to a higher Court. This is what passes for justice in Scotland in the 21st century. A letter of complaint complete with Petition sent to the Scottish Government was quickly referred to the UK Government as they are ultimately responsibility for electoral reform. The UK Government (Labour) and Alistair Darling in particular (now Chancellor of the Exchequer) failed to offer any response, maybe he was worried in case the Edinburgh prisoners would oust him from his cosy Edinburgh South constituency! If the Scottish Authorities can totally disregard rulings by the European Court of Human Rights then what hope is there ever for justice in Scotland?
A Banana Republic it may very well incline to be but a Whiskey and Haggis Republic it certainly is!
A few other classic human rights references from the past include a comment by the former Justice Committee Convenor of the Scottish Parliament, Pauline McNeill (Labour) to the effect that Scotland doesn't need a Human Rights Commissioner as such breaches are rare, ignorance is bliss! She also stated on a Newsnight television programme that prisoners should not have any human rights once they enter prison. With an attitude like that it is no wonder they were kicked out of Government!
Likewise, the Tory leader Annabel Goldie has also stated that she believes in prisons! ...not that either MSP have much else in common with the likes of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Franco to name but a few! Miss Goldie also wanted 1,500 more Police Officers in Scotland, lets hope they don't have criminal records like so many of the existing ones (see press article).
Yet another former Government Minister was attributed with making the comment that denial was the greatest form of guilt when confronted over the Orkney Islands child abuse scandal and still denies it off-course!
We really must include a contribution by the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Nicol Stephen, who wanted to set up a midnight football initiative to counteract rising crime levels. Where do they get them from?
The Crown Office in Edinburgh recently sent one of their Procurator Fiscal Deputes on a jolly jaunt to Eastern Europe in order to educate the judicial authorities of the new fledgling European States in the art of justice and dare we say, human rights? One really had to chuckle at that one! Lets hope that she (yes it was a she as this gender seem to predominate in the Scottish Crown Office) didn't have to answer too many questions about the Scottish human rights record! ...and did we perceive an American accent?
All in all, it is perfectly clear that the people of Scotland were denied their Human Rights and now that some have claimed them, those in power don't like it one little bit! Certain sections of the Press delight in taking every opportunity to deride the Human Rights Act for political gain choosing not to report on the bigger picture or the underlying facts. Remember, you can't fool all of the people all of the time; even in a small place called Scotland!
It is without doubt that there are bad apples and scumbags in every area of society, government employees are no different just because they allude an image of respectability and work for the Government. Xenophobia (fear or contempt of foreigners) has long been incorporated into the Scots psyche leading to the 'us and them' mentality which is still exploited by politicians for their own political gain.
The situation is unlikely to change since the cream of Scotland's youth continually export themselves to other pastures. It is a sad indictment and a matter of historic fact that the majority of Scots who ever made good did so elsewhere.