The news that the Scottish Government is to hold a public inquiry into its handling of the coronavirus pandemic has not escaped public notice. One of the areas of inquiry that will attract most public interest is likely to be that of deaths resulting from coronavirus in care homes. While the Scottish Government has not made any formal announcement as to the scope of the inquiry, the Scottish Human Rights Commission has released its own briefing paper on the key human rights issues it considers to be relevant to matters which have arisen in care homes during the pandemic.

There are two parts to the briefing. The first is an outline of the ECHR rights which the SHRC considers are relevant to the way that care homes and their residents have been affected by the pandemic. Those are Articles 2 (the right to life), 8 (the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence) and 14 (the right to freedom from discrimination in respect of protected convention rights). The briefing also refers to other legal obligations arising out of other international human rights treaties to which the UK is a signatory.

The second part of the briefing sets out how the SHRC considers that the inquiry should be managed in accordance with human rights law in order "to ensure effective investigations are carried out." The SHRC highlights the PANEL principles as a means of taking a "human rights based approach" towards the functioning of the inquiry. The PANEL principles are as follows:

  • Participation of everyone in decisions which affect their human rights;
  • Accountability of those responsible for the respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights;
  • Non-discrimination;
  • Empowerment of rights holders to know and claim their rights;
  • Legality – an explicit application of human rights law and standards.

These principles are referred to and utilised both by the SHRC in the course of its work and a number of human rights monitoring bodies across Europe – see the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions for further information.

It remains to be seen how the Scottish Government defines the scope of its inquiry and the approach the inquiry will adopt – so stay tuned for more.


Douglas Waddell

Senior Associate