To mark International Human Rights Day, the Scottish Government is leading a debate in the Scottish Parliament reaffirming Scotland’s support for human rights defenders. The Law Society provided a briefing to all MSPs in advance of that debate highlighting the important contribution that the international legal community makes to this work. Among our members we have many such defenders who work tirelessly to uphold the rights of the people of Scotland, or people who come to Scotland to escape human rights violations in their own country. This year alone, the legal policy team at the Society has also been involved in a number of important pieces of work to advance Scotland’s human rights record. These include responding to Scottish and UK Government consultations and inquiries, and participating in Scottish Parliament evidence sessions on issues such as:

 •            prisoner voting

•            increasing protection from Female Genital Mutilation

•            review and consolidation of Scottish hate crime legislation

•            the nature, extent and prosecution of elder abuse

•            adults with incapacity reform

•            the physical punishment of children

Representatives from the Society sit on the Scottish Government’s UNCRC incorporation working group, as well as the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership.

We also highlighted the essential role lawyers around the world play in protecting the rule of law, ensuring access to justice for fellow citizens, and protecting fundamental rights and freedoms. For that very reason, the legal profession can come under considerable pressure from executive and legislative powers, as well as in some cases the judiciary. We must never ignore the challenges and dangers that many of our colleagues worldwide face in the course of discharging their professional duties. Our membership of international organisations such as the Council of European Law Societies and Bar Associations (CCBE) reminds us how fortunate we are in Scotland to have political, legal and social institutions that maintain respect for human rights.

To give just one recent example among many, we referred to Iranian women’s rights lawyer and campaigner Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes for advocating on behalf of women who protested the compulsory hijab, in part because her arrest had been discussed in the Scottish Parliament earlier in the year. We highlighted that fact that Nasrin was one of four imprisoned Iranian lawyers who received the CCBE’s Human Rights Award this year in absentia.

While there is still a long way to go achieve tolerance and respect for human rights on a global scale, we highlighted the important work the CCBE (among others) does, as well as the work that we as individual law societies and bar associations who form part of their membership do, not just as front-line defenders of human rights but as promoters of these fundamental rights and freedoms.

To read our full briefing click here.