Your Human Rights

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It is likely that everyone with a criminal record will have experienced some level of discrimination in their lives, as a result of that criminal record. 

Unfortunately, discrimination as a result of a criminal record is not protected against in law in the same way as other types of discrimination are (for example, discrimination due to an individual’s religion or sexual orientation). 

Because of this lack of protection, it is really important to be aware of your human rights so that, when you feel your rights are being violated, you are able to defend your rights as effectively as possible.

Although we hope to expand on this section of the website in time, for now we will highlight some key rights below.

Care About Rights is an excellent course of information should you wish to learn more.

A table with examples of appropriate language use

What are human rights?

Human rights are the rights that apply to every single person in the world.  

Originally, human rights were defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted in 1948.

In 1950, the European Convention on Human Rights was established. This protects the rights of people who belong to the Council of Europe, which includes the UK.

The UK established the Human Rights Act 1998, which meant that human rights cases could be heard in UK courts, that public bodies in the UK must comply with human rights at all times and that new laws uphold human rights. 

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) explain the binding commitments that countries have agreed to comply with. 

When can my human rights be restricted?

Some of your human rights are referred to as “absolute”. This means that they can never be restricted. For example, freedom from torture and freedom from slavery.

However, the majority of the rights can be restricted in two circumstances:

  • When the country is in a state of national emergency or a war
  • In order to protect the rights of others or in the public interest


If a right is to be restricted, then three questions must be answered first:

  • Is there a legal basis for the restriction of the right?
  • Is there a legitimate aim or justification for the restriction, such as the protection of other people’s human rights?
  • Is the action proportionate - is it the minimum necessary restriction of the right?

It is the answer to these three questions that you will need to address if you feel your rights have been violated.

Are my human rights legally binding?

Unfortunately, in some circumstances, the answer is no. Not all human rights can be enforced in UK courts because they were not all incorporated into the Human Rights Act (1998). If you are considering legal action, you may find it helpful to seek advice from a solicitor.

A Human Rights Bill for Scotland

At the time of writing (late 2023), a consultation is underway into the introduction of the Human Rights Bill for Scotland. This new piece of legislation, if introduced, will add additional legal powers relating to the enforcement of human rights. 

A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.

Human rights of particular relevance

The Right to Education

Scotland recognises the right of everyone to education. 

This can be a particular challenge for individuals attempting to access university education, especially when under licence or notification conditions.

If challenging a decision, it may be worth making reference to the ICESCR, which states “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all”.  

The Right to Respect for Family and Private Life

In relation to involvement with the criminal justice system, the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) covers information relating to:

  • Criminal activity
  • Allegations
  • Investigations
  • Proceedings 
  • Unproven allegations
  • Information relating to the absence of convictions
  • Personal data about penalties
  • Conditions or restrictions placed on an individual as part of the criminal justice process
  • Civil measures which may lead to a criminal penalty if not adhered to

The rules around the processing of data are complicated. However, if you feel that your personal information is not being dealt with in a “lawful, fair and transparent” way (for example, if you feel your information has been shared inappropriately), you may want to refer to the GDPR guidelines.

The Right to Adequate Housing

The ICESCR, defines:

“The right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” (Article 11)

“Adequate” housing is defined, by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in the following way:

  • Legal security of tenure: Adequate housing must guarantee specific legal protection, such as protection against harassment, forced eviction and other possible threats.
  • Availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure: Adequate housing has to provide the occupants with ‘sustainable access to natural and common resources, safe drinking water, energy for cooking, heating and lighting, sanitation and washing facilities, means of food storage, refuse disposal, site drainage and emergency services.’
  • Affordability: Adequate housing must be affordable, so that the housing costs do not threaten or compromise the satisfaction and attainment of non-housing basic needs. State parties should provide housing subsidies to ensure that those who cannot otherwise afford adequate housing are able to do so and that tenants are ‘protected by appropriate means against unreasonable rent levels.’
  • Habitability: Adequate housing must have adequate space and protect its occupants from heat, cold, rain, damp, wind and other safety and health hazards.
  • Accessibility: Adequate housing must be accessible to its occupants. This entails making necessary changes to housing depending on the occupants’ physical and mental health.
  • Location: Adequate housing must be in a location that is not polluted and allows access to health care, childcare, schools, employment options and other possible social facilities.
  • Cultural adequacy: The construction methods, materials used and relevant policies must reasonably enable cultural identity expression. This, for example, means that the UK and Scottish Governments have a responsibility to ensure that culturally adequate accommodation is available to Travellers, including transit accommodation.

The Homelessness etc, (Scotland) Act 2003), gave the right to everyone assessed as being unintentionally homeless the right to accommodation. 

If, therefore, you feel you are being discriminated against in relation to access to housing, you may find it helpful to make references to both the Homelessness etc, (Scotland) Act 2003) and the ICESCR.

Our housing rights page will give you some additional information about your housing rights.

Shelter Scotland has produced a comprehensive document addressing the topic and are able to provide support in individual cases.

Last updated:
February 24, 2024


The following organisations offer support on this topic.

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