Scottish govt slams ‘morally repugnant’ UK govt in children’s rights row

Beyond England Downing Street

The Scottish government has condemned the UK government’s decision to launch a Supreme Court challenge against laws protecting children’s rights that were unanimously passed by Holyrood last month.

The SNP leader and first minister of Scotland described the legal action against the children’s bill as “jaw-dropping”.

Nicola Sturgeon’s tweet continued: “The UK Tory government is going to Court to challenge a law passed by @scotparl unanimously. And for what? To protect their ability to legislate/act in ways that breach children’s rights in Scotland. Politically catastrophic, but also morally repugnant.”

The row comes with just over three weeks before the May 6 elections and has – for some – highlighted the limits of devolved powers thereby strengthening calls for Scottish independence.

‘Morally repugnant and deeply menacing,’ says Swinney

The bill passed by Holyrood seeks to ensure children’s rights laid out in the European Charter of Local Self Government and the UN Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC) UN charter cannot be infringed upon by any public body. The Scotsman reports that Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, wrote to Scotland’s deputy first minister, John Swinney, to ask for changes to be made to the children’s bill. These were not forthcoming and that has led to the bill’s referral to the Supreme Court on Monday (April 12).

Swinney has pledged to fight the legal challenge having hailed last month’s passing of the bill as “a revolution in children’s rights” and a “major cause for celebration”.

Swinney said: “Not a single voice in the Parliament was raised against the Bill – it passed unanimously.

“And, crucially, it has been certified independently by the Presiding Officer as being within the powers of the Scottish Parliament.”

He said the attempt by the Conservative government to veto the rights for children “is not just morally repugnant, but it is also deeply menacing” and added: “The only people who need fear this Bill are people who want to breach children’s rights.

“The only people who want to block this Bill are people who know they are already breaking those rights.

“So, if the Tories want to target the rights of Scottish children, then they can expect to see us in court.”

A spokesperson for the UK government confirmed the two bills have been referred to the Supreme Court under section 33 of the Scotland Act 1998, and added: “The UK Government Law Officers’ concerns are not about the substance of the legislation, rather whether parts are outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.”

Row will fuel the constitutional debate in the election campaign

Every bill passed by Holyrood is subject to a four week period during which the UK government can challenge legislation under powers granted by the 1998 Scotland Act.

The two bills sat the centre of the row passed the Scottish parliament unanimously last month, meaning every MSP, including every Conservative MSP, backed the legislation.  The bills seek to incorporate the UN Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC) and the European Charter of Local Self Government into Scots law but UK ministers are concerned the legislation could place obligations on them and would therefore be beyond the scope of Holyrood’s devolved powers.

Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland political editor said each side is accusing “the other of picking this fight” which will be for the UK Supreme Court to settle, a process, Campbell states, “that will put the legislation on hold and fuel the constitutional debate in the Holyrood election campaign.”

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