Incorporation of the UNCRC


What is UNCRC incorporation?

Incorporation of the UNCRC means it gets written into a country’s law at a national level, a level known as domestic law.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill has now passed the Scottish Parliament, and will soon become Scots law. Once it does, it’ll come into force within six months.

When a Convention is incorporated into Scots law, it has more power to bring about change. Often, this happens through cultural change. But this is underpinned by the fact the law can be used in Scottish courts.

Children and young people have been at the forefront of campaigning for incorporation for more than a decade.  

They have said time and time again that putting their rights into law is an important demonstration of how Scotland values children and young people. They have told us: 

“Incorporation of the UNCRC is so important because we need to show children and young people in Scotland today that their rights are serious, they are meaningful, and they are set out in law.” 

“By putting the UNCRC into law, it shows children that the government and local authorities and other public bodies will take them seriously and do care about their rights.”    

“Knowing that our rights are coming into law, knowing we are being listened to, and knowing we are being taken seriously by the people in charge, gives more power to young people.” 

The story so far…

Incorporation of the UNCRC puts children’s rights into the heart of everything we do. It takes the international promises we’ve signed up to and gives them real force in Scotland.

It’s the most important thing Scotland can do to protect the rights of children and young people. On 16 March 2021, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, meaning UNCRC incorporation will soon be a reality in Scotland.

However, The UK Government has challenged specific areas of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill in the UK Supreme Court.

In response, former Commissioner Bruce Adamson released this statement, stating it was vital that the challenge by the UK Government should not create unnecessary delay to the much-needed rights protections it will provide.  

On the 6 October 2021 the Supreme Court published their judgment and our office made this statement. The judges unanimously decided that four sections of the Bill went beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament. Until changes are made to those sections, the Bill cannot become law – which means children’s rights will not be fully protected.

On the 24th May 2022, the Deputy First Minister said the Scottish Government is looking at the changes that need to be made to the Bill to address the Supreme Court judgment. 

In response, our office called for the Scottish Government to take action to address the Supreme Court’s concerns urgently.

In 2023, the Scottish Parliament has been taking more evidence to see how incorporation will work in Scotland with those changes. Commissioner Nicola Killean recently blogged on why incorporation is still worth it

Together Scotland has produced really helpful resources which go into more detail over the original legal challenge as well as explaining the complexities of the latest developments.

Frequently asked questions

A:

No.

The Scottish Parliament has limited powers, so there are some things it can’t make laws about.

The UK Government believes some parts of the Bill go beyond these powers, and these are the parts it is challenging.

But it is only challenging these parts, and not the Bill as a whole. On 24th May 2022, the Deputy First Minister said the Scottish Government is looking at the changes that need to be made to the Bill to address the Supreme Court judgment. 

Together Scotland’s website has more detail about the specifics of the UK Government’s challenge.

Together Scotland’s Website also has more detail about the latest statement made by the Scottish Government, explaining what amendments to the bill are needed which may mean incorporation can happen sooner.

A:

It doesn’t have to.

The UK Government’s challenge will delay the Bill getting Royal Assent― where the King approves a Bill and so makes it become a law.

The UNCRC Incorporation Bill says it must come into force within six months of receiving Royal Assent. But that doesn’t mean children and young people in Scotland have to wait the full six months: they’ve already waited long enough.

After Royal Assent, the Scottish Government has the power to make the law commence before six months have passed.

Adult duty bearers across Scotland should work to make sure incorporation happens as soon as possible. Nothing about the UK Government’s challenge changes that.

More useful information on incorporation

A stylised illustration of the sun emerging from the Scottish flag, symbolising incorporation.
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