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Amnesty International welcomes strong reference to Human Rights in Justice Committees report on Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill

  • Read Amnesty's Response to the Consultation: Keeping Scotland Safe and Strong: A Consultation on Reforming Police and Fire and Rescue Services in Scotland (PDF)

Responding to today's (Wednesday 2 May) publication of the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee's Stage 1 report on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill,  Shabnum Mustapha, Director of Amnesty International Scotland said:

“Amnesty International strongly welcomes the serious consideration which the Justice Committee has given to human rights in a future Single Police Force.

"The creation of a Single Police Force represents an opportunity to embed human rights as part of day-to-day policing – in a similar manner which already occurs in Northern Ireland policing.

In particular, we are pleased that the Committee’s report makes significant reference to the police oath in Northern Ireland, which includes human rights.

"Amnesty hopes that the Scottish Parliament will adopt a similar oath in Scotland to send out a message that human rights are at the heart of 21st century policing.”

The report states:
“The Committee notes the good practice from Northern Ireland in relation to embedding human rights within all aspects of policing and recommends that the Scottish Government gives consideration to the Bill being more explicit on human rights.”

Read the report: Stage 1 Report on the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill (external site)

Background Information

Amnesty International responded to the consultation on the Bill and gave written evidence to the Justice Committee on the Bill. Read our response in full

Amnesty believes that police have an important role in defending society’s human rights e.g. the right to life and the right to property. Police also have human rights to defend themselves which is why they can legitimately use force that is proportionate to any situation they face, as sanctioned by the state.

Scottish police forces are also bound by the Human Rights Act to respect the European Convention on Human Rights including, the prohibition on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to liberty and security, the right to a fair trial and the right to family and private life.

Amnesty International believes the duty of police constables to protect human rights should be reflected in the new oath which we have consistently called for. For example, the Northern Irish oath is:
“I hereby do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of constable, and that in so doing I will act with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all individuals and to their traditions and beliefs.”

In our submissions to the Scottish Government and the Justice Committee on the Bill, we have also called for the following to help enhance accountability in policing:

  • A modern purpose for policing
    Given the importance of a Scottish police force to upholding human rights, the new purpose should include a reference to protecting fundamental human rights which can be introduced in section 32 of the Bill.
  • Code of ethics
    The Scottish Police Service Code of Ethical Practice already lists integrity, transparency, accountability, responsibility and impartiality as principles which all members of the Scottish Police Service observe and support. Although it is clear that these principles go some way to support human rights objectives, human rights should be explicit within this Code of Ethical Practice, to ensure their centrality to the Scottish Police Service.

    A positive example of this is the Police Service of Northern Ireland Code of Ethics (2008) which states that “public confidence in the Police Service is closely related to the attitude and behaviour of officers towards members of the public, in particular their respect for the human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals as enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights”.
  • Training
    Training for both new recruits and experienced personnel should contain clear reference to human rights standards.
  • Personnel appraisals
    Awareness of human rights should be set down as an important element in appraisals of personnel.

  • Independent advisor
    An independent Human Rights Advisor should be appointed to monitor compliance with the Human Rights Act (1998) and publish these findings on an annual basis. The Northern Ireland Policing Board examines the following factors in their report on compliance with the Human Rights Act and could be taken as a positive model for a Scottish compliance report.

    1. “Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Programme of Action
    2. Adequacy and effectiveness of PSNI human rights training
    3. Compliance of PSNI policies with the Human Rights Act 1998
    4. Compliance of PSNI operations with the Human Rights Act 1998
    5. Adherence by PSNI officers to the Code of Ethics
    6. Complaints, discipline and civil actions raising human rights issues
    7. Public order
    8. The Use of Force
    9. Covert Policing
    10. Victims’ Rights
    11. The treatment of suspects
    12. Human rights awareness among PSNI officers”
  • Human Rights Committee
    A permanent Human Rights and Professional Standards Committee should be established, with responsibility for reviewing complaints and disciplinary matters and monitoring the use of force on an on-going basis. 

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