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 UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was unanimously passed in Scottish Parliament on the 7th of December 2023.

On the 16th of January 2024, Royal assent was granted for the UNCRC Bill meaning it is now officially an Act. Most of its provisions will come into force in six months’ time (16th July 2024).

The granting of royal assent marks the final step of making the Bill into an Act of the Scottish Parliament.

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 of incorporation…

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 has done to protect the rights of children and young people. However the road to the Bill becoming an Act of the Scottish Parliament wasn’t a smooth one.

In April 2021 The UK Government 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 would 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 were made to those sections, the Bill could not become law – which means children’s rights would not be fully protected.

On the 24th May 2022, the Deputy First Minister said the Scottish Government was looking at the changes that needed 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.

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

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

The UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was unanimously passed in Scottish Parliament on the 7th of December 2023. It was a historic day for children, young people and all those that advocated for UNCRC incorporation. For over 10 years, children, young people and adults have stepped up to lead this important campaign and their hard work finally paid off.

The granting of royal assent on 16th of January 2024 marks the final step of making the Bill into an Act of Parliament. Most of its provisions will come into force in six months (16th July 2024).

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