A 'Human Rights-Based Approach' to the Scottish COVID-19 Public Inquiry: [Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law Briefing Paper]

Gabriel Kielty, Alan Miller, Elaine Webster

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The Centre for the Study of Human Rights Law is a focal point for research and teaching in human rights law within the Law School at the University of Strathclyde. The Scotland Branch of the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK requested that the Centre provide them with a briefing paper on the key features of a human rights-based public inquiry. Accordingly, the following briefing paper is not a comprehensive and detailed legal analysis. Rather its purpose is to offer an outline of how the values and principles of a human rights-based approach may be applied to the pending Scottish Covid-19 inquiry and, specifically, to the development of its Terms of Reference. This briefing paper is therefore for the benefit of the bereaved families and for those with whom they may wish to share it. It is important to clarify at the outset that a human rights-based approach would not be an alternative to a traditional public inquiry but would rather be supplementary and add value. It provides a framework for a public inquiry and accordingly helps shape the Terms of Reference and the public legitimacy of the inquiry. The underpinning value of all human rights law and therefore that of a human rightsbased public inquiry is that of human dignity. The principles of a human rights-based approach, as derived from the United Nations and promoted by the Scottish Human Rights Commission among others in Scotland, are contained within the PANEL Principles of Participation, Accountability, Non-discrimination, Empowerment and Legality. These principles can be applied to a public inquiry through the lens of the human rights-based approach. This approach identifies three dimensions or pillars of a public inquiry – namely, its Structure, Process and Outcomes. The Structure is the values base and legal framework of the public inquiry. For example, this will include recognition of the right of effective participation of bereaved families in the inquiry, the investigative duties of those conducting the inquiry and the consideration by the inquiry of all of the human rights at stake. The Process is the effort made to apply the framework in the conduct of the inquiry. For example, this will include efforts to enable the effective participation of bereaved families through such measures as ensuring public awareness of the inquiry, inviting input to the development of the Terms of Reference of the inquiry, collection of and providing access to all relevant evidence, permitting relevant questions to be put on behalf of affected families, and providing an accessible venue for the inquiry and financial support where necessary to enable the participation of affected families. The Outcomes are the actual public inquiry findings which result from this human rights-based approach. For example, this should include findings on accountability where rights have been breached and duties have not been met, as well as lessons to be learned to ensure no repetition.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationGlasgow
PublisherUniversity of Strathclyde
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021


  • COVID-19
  • human rights law
  • public inquiry
  • Scotland
  • United Nations


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