Who needs human rights?

Last week, in the run-up to Human Rights Day tomorrow,  the Scottish Parliament debated the Scottish National Action Plan on human rights. This aims to ensure that every citizen can realise these internationally recognised rights.

Alison McInnes led for the Liberal Democrats and she went through the SNP Government like a dose of salts for its dreadful stance on stop and search. She highlighted how any one of us might need these rights to protect us one day should we find ourselves sick or vulnerable. If you read the Daily Mail, it’ll tell you that human rights are nasty things that let terrorists off the hook. Well, actually, they  protect all of us from abuse by the state in all sorts of ways.

Here’s Alison’s speech in full:

SNAP has made an impact and good progress in its first year. It is good to have an opportunity to debate it today ahead of international human rights day on 10 December.Members have already spoken about SNAP’s practical value in raising awareness of, understanding of and respect for human rights throughout the Government, public service and communities. The annual report notes that there is still a lack of understanding among decision makers and front-line workers about the value of human rights, so I welcome the cabinet secretary’s announcement of an awareness-raising campaign on why rights matter and how to claim those rights. That is vital because, as the Scottish Human Rights Commission stresses,

“good intentions do not always translate into good practice.”

There is no better example of that than stop and search, which, as the year 1 report suggests, has proven to be an early test for SNAP. Last week, I chaired a meeting of the cross-party group on children and young people that focused on the impact of that tactic. Representatives of the Scottish Human Rights Commission and Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People told Police Scotland in no uncertain terms that the use of voluntary stop and search was indefensible from a human rights perspective. Every encounter that involves a purposeless, unwarranted search of the public is a distinct intrusion that is incompatible with article 8 of the convention. On any level, let alone the current industrial scale on which it is practised, it is intolerable.

I am still astonished that this Government permits the police to conduct hundreds of thousands of these violations each year. It is even more baffling, because they do not need to. The police possess a range of legitimate statutory search powers, which are rightly based on intelligence and suspicion of wrongdoing. Even the Scottish Police Authority concluded that there is no robust evidence that voluntary stop and search prevents crime. I intend to press the new Cabinet Secretary for Justice to reflect on that and to back my efforts to ensure that all searches are regulated, accountable and rooted in law.

Given that all three of the organisations that I mentioned play a leading role in developing and enacting SNAP, the difference in views between the SHRC, the children’s commissioner and the police was telling, and it reminds us just how much more work needs to be done and how many conversations need to be had and procedures changed before we can hope to realise our ambition of having a mature democracy that truly respects and protects the rights of all.

That is why effectively measuring progress and identifying tangible targets are key to understanding year-on-year advances. I welcome the fact that the monitoring progress group has been established to do just that, and I was interested to read that its focus in 2015 will be to involve those

“whose rights are directly affected by SNAP.”

That is admirable, but those whose rights are most frequently infringed are often disenfranchised, vulnerable or unrepresented. We are talking about vulnerable elderly people who are subjected to medical restraint through prescribed drugs; children who are exposed to so-called justifiable assault, despite the calls of the United Nations to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement; the 202 young people who last year received treatment for mental health problems in non-specialist wards; those who have to wait for more than six months to access essential child and adolescent mental health services treatment, as occurred in half of national health service boards; and people such as Fiona, who is subject to a guardianship order. She recently told me that she is incredibly frustrated that she is not supported in taking the decisions that she is capable of taking. Instead, all rights to control her life have been removed.

It will not always be easy to identify such people, let alone make contact with them and have the opportunity to listen to them, but doing so is critical to understanding and enhancing the impact of SNAP. It will help to build public support for human rights by demonstrating that they are not remote or obstructive legal concepts, and it will help to ensure that SNAP makes a difference to the lives of people across Scotland.

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • Not another claim the the police in Scotland are all like the Stasi and it is all the fault of the SNP !

    How does Scotalnd compare with London when it comes to the statistics on stop and search ?
    I realise that London has a bigger population than Scotland and a bigger police force, but do you really think things are bad up there?
    I assume you are not also blaming the performance of the Met on the SNP ?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Dec '14 - 6:31pm

    John, you mentioned the Stasi, not me. I thought we liberals believed in decentralisation. London style policing (and top and search in Scotland is exponentially higher) is not suitable for peaceable highland communities.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 9th Dec '14 - 6:58pm

    “Were you bitten by a Scotsman as a girl or something? Lol”

    Excuse me?! What exactly do you mean by that?

    Actually I don’t hate the SNP. I don’t hate anybody. I just disagree with them and as a liberal I will challenge anyone who doesn’t respect civil liberties. Sadly, in Scotland, that’s just about everybody except the Lib Dems and maybe the Greens.

  • Caron
    I have attempted to gather info to draw comparison between the Met experience of this and the experience north of the border.
    This is difficult for the reasons that this year’s Edinburgh University report by Kate Murray makes clear (although she does say that you can still make comparisons).
    Nevertheless the Edinburgh report does not understate the problem in Scotland.

    If you look at the straight numbers and take into account that in London there is a concentration in certain boroughs I hope you will acknowledge the experience of the Metropolitan Police is somewhat more serious?

    According to Kate Murray’s report — “Scotland has a different legal framework, and search encounters seem less adversarial than those south of the border. Nor do searches in Scotland appear to discriminate against black and minority ethnic populations. Rather, searches appear to fall on white teenage boys from socially deprived areas.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/scotland-blog/2014/jan/17/scotland-police-stopsearch

    The official figures for south of the border show a more serious situation.

    The total number of stops and searches in England and Wales for the year ending March 2013.

    1,006,187 stops and searches were recorded under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

    43% of all stops and searches in England and Wales in the year ending March 2012 were conducted by the Metropolitan Police.

    The Mets share reduced the following year and it would appear that the Met is trying hard to bring the figure down.
    But it would still appear that the situation in London is worse than the situation in Scotland.
    I read that most of the stop and search in Scotland is in Strathclyde.
    In London most stop and search is concentrated in those boroughs with high BAME populations,

    http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/apr/04/arrests-stop-and-search-detentions-police-statistics-england-wales

  • Richard Dean 9th Dec '14 - 11:35pm
  • JohnTilley, policing in London isn’t of much relevance to a debate over the Scottish government’s police and justice record. I hope we can avoid the nationalist trope of responding to criticism of country with a diatribe against other people’s countries.

    The point is that the Scottish government’s current policies are making things worse than they were previously. Even if London is worse still, its not necessarily where you stand now, but rather what direction you’re facing in that defines the sort of future you want to build.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 11th Dec '14 - 9:05am

    David, your comment was both rude and patronising, particularly as I am Scottish, I live in Scotland and know first hand how things are up here.

    You might like to read this, one of the many things I had to say about secret courts about the time before you draw any conclusions about my consistency on these issues.

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/secret-courtswhat-does-the-party-do-now-33541.html

    I know that Theresa May hasn’t got very far down her “counter-terrorism to-do list” and that’s because of Nick Clegg saying No, but there are some things our MPs have voted for that I don’t think they should have.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 11th Dec '14 - 9:32am

    Caron, as usual this a very thought provoking article, and as a former police officer, and now academically involved in researching and lecturing on policing, I tend to agree with your concerns.

    The Scottish Police Service is in many ways a role model for policing throughout the remainder of the Union, but it too is overly committed to the flawed policing tactic of Stop and Search that is actually counter productive in the development of community cohesion and engaging the publics confidence, and has little if any influence in reducing crime.

    In Scotland, the Liberal Democrat Party can proudly hold its head up high when it comes to its commitment about policing matters, when one considers how it was able to champion the public concerns over the regular overt arming of the Armed Response Vehicles.

    The Scottish Liberal Democrats balanced the need for the police service to have firearms accessible, with the sensibilities of the public, for does the public need to see gun carrying officers in the cake shop in Brora, fifty six miles north of Inverness, when the officers are merely collecting their donuts?

    As for the commonality between policing London and say Glasgow, the reality is that it is sadly far too similar in many ways.

  • David Howell 11th Dec '14 - 1:06pm

    Forgive me; but I fail to see how a “light hearted” comment can be taken as “rude” unless one has a particularly thin skin.
    I’m surprised, since you live in Scotland, that you should take such umbrage at what is seen as a perfectly mild admonition by any terms here.

    If you think I was also being “patronising”, then I apologise; I hadn’t realised that 45% of the population here should just take it, rather than have the temerity to reply in kind.

    I will take your comment on board for future reference. . . and thank you for allowing my response to you to be published. That is what I would expect from someone who is a Liberal.

  • T-J 10th Dec ’14 – 11:41am

    T-J ,
    You may have misunderstood my comment. You may also wish to look in your dictionary for the definiton of the word “diatribe”.
    I was definitely NOT following any nationalist trope. In fact I was making a comparison between policing policy in one part of the UK with policing policy in another part of the UK. What is wrong with that ?

    You assert that — “..the Scottish government’s current policies are making things worse than they were ”
    Where is your evidence?

    The Edinburgh University research to which I provided a link actually tells a rather different story, does it not?
    Is it not the case that over 80% of “stop and search” in all of Scotland actually takes place in Strathclyde?
    Is it not trues that the vast majority of those “stopped and searched” in Scotland are 16 year old boys?

    It is not a policy which is being imposed in a blanket way on the entire population of what Caron describes as “..peaceable highland communities.” is it?

    By all means involve yourself in political games in the Edinburgh Parliament but if you want to discuss a serious issue like “stop and search” the experience in London is highly relevant.
    It provides some context to the exaggerated claims which make critics of police policy in Scotland look a little out of touch and parochial.

  • JohnTilley, the problem with Scottish policing right now is that the centralised single force is doing a poor job of handling the needs of different communities appropriately. From stop and search failing to make progress in Glasgow through to the armed officers on routine work in Inverness, the single consolidated force has led to problems that wouldn’t exist if not for the Scottish government’s decision to disregard the fringes and impose a centralisation.

    There is an argument that Scottish policing was too fragmented to be properly cost-effective with its previous eight forces. But this one-size-doesn’t-quite-fit-any approach to the problem goes too far in the other direction. In my opinion anyway.

    The diatribe point was more aimed at Mr Howell and his reference to the de Menezes case. I didn’t make that clear in the comment, sorry.

  • T-J
    Fair enough.
    I have to admit that my main knowledge of policing in Scotland comes from reading all of the Rebus books over the last twenty years.

    Maybe we should talk it over with Ian Rankin in The Oxford Bar. 🙂

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