Action is needed to tackle barriers to public interest court action in Scotland, according to a new report from a number of leading NGOs.

The report Overcoming Barriers to Public Interest Litigation in Scotland published Thursday 22 November 2018, explores why there is a lack of strategic court action in Scotland and suggests recommendations to address this. It suggests key barriers are: poor access to information about court cases; limitations to who can take a case to court; short time-limits for taking cases; inhibitive costs and financial risk; and a limited culture of using public interest litigation to bring change.

Authors Clan Childlaw, Human Rights Consortium Scotland, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Shelter Scotland, JustRight Scotland and Rape Crisis Scotland are clear that if we are to see human rights progressed in Scotland, we need more NGOs to be able to pursue strategic cases.

The report was launched on 22nd November at ‘Using the law to advance rights’ events held in the Faculty of Advocates: an afternoon event aimed at NGOs, and an evening keynote address by the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC followed by an expert panel.

The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC said:
“The rule of law and respect for fundamental rights are the foundation of a just society. I hope that this report stimulates interest in how the law protects human rights; and debate about how the protection of human rights can be further improved.  I look forward to studying it carefully. It is essential that our shared values of respect for human rights are protected by a vigorous and accessible system of justice.”

Mhairi Snowden, Coordinator of the Human Rights Consortium Scotland said:
“Public interest litigation is relatively rare in Scotland. Organisations in Scotland do not often go to court to press for human rights protections to be enforced but it is much more common elsewhere in the UK.
“However we know that raising human rights law in court is vital and an essential part of a flourishing human rights culture and society.
“We want human rights used in every possible way to make sure that they are taken seriously, and that people in Scotland are treated with dignity and respect.
That is why we are asking government and legal decision-makers to take a good hard look at this area and take action to tackle the barriers.”

Fiona Jones, Policy and Advocacy Consultant, Clan Childlaw said:
“As an organisation we try to use law strategically to further children and young people’s rights in Scotland, for example by intervening as a third party in court cases to provide the court with the children’s rights perspective of the issues before it.

“There are challenges for organisations – particularly voluntary organisations – that wish to take legal action to ensure the rights of the people they represent are upheld and enforced. This report aims to generate discussion of some of these challenges and how they can be overcome.”

Naomi McAuliffe, Programme Director Scotland for Amnesty International in Scotland said:
“Amnesty International has a strong record of pursuing human rights in court to bring real change for people. Whether on the extradition of those accused of crimes against humanity, mass surveillance by states, or access to safe and legal healthcare for women in Northern Ireland, sometimes the only option left for justice and redress is through the courts.

“This year is the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Act and its important people know that this legislation enables them to take the government, a local authority or other public bodies to court for infringing their rights.

“But going to court can be an expensive and intimidating process and more needs to be done to address the barriers to individuals and organisations taking cases on the everyday human rights abuses happening in Scotland.”

Notes to editors

  1. The report is Overcoming Barriers to Public Interest Litigation in Scotland, available at https://foe.scot/resource/overcoming-barriers-public-interest-litigation-scotland/
  2. The report was launched 22nd November 2018 at an event being held in the Faculty of Advocates titled ‘Using the law to advance rights: Overcoming barriers and creating opportunities’ in front of an audience of NGO and legal sector participants. The evening reception ‘Using the law to advance human rights’ was held in Laigh Hall, Faculty of Advocates and included a keynote address by the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC and an expert panel.