We’re available for advice on children’s human rights on email at inbox@cypcs.org.uk and on freephone at

0800 019 1179.

Who is the Commissioner?


The Commissioner works to make sure the laws that affect your lives are fair. He challenges people in power to keep human rights promises they’ve made to you that make sure you have all you need to grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding.

He helps you understand how valuable and important your rights are. That understanding means you can demand change when your rights – or the rights of others – are not being respected.

He makes sure adults in Scotland know more about your rights so that they see where they need to make changes.

He puts you at the heart of his work, and will listen and learn from you.

The Commissioner’s role

The Commissioner’s role and powers are set out in the law of Scotland.

The Commissioner’s role in law

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The Commissioner’s powers are set out in the Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2003, as modified by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

Before the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act came into force, the Commissioner could only use their power of investigation to investigate cases involving the human rights of groups of children and young people. The Act changed this to allow the Commissioner to investigate cases affecting the human rights of an individual child or young person.

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Scots law sets out the Commissioner’s functions— the things that he and his office must do.

Protecting and promoting rights

The Commissioner’s main function is to promote and protect the rights of children and young people in Scotland. That includes:

  • everyone in Scotland under 18, and
  • everyone in Scotland under 21 who’s care experienced.

Protecting and promoting rights must involve:

Promoting awareness and understanding

The Commissioner has to tell people in Scotland about the rights children and young people have and help them understand what they mean in practice.

Reviewing law, policy and practice

The Commissioner has to look at what powerful people in Scotland do and the laws they pass, and challenge them when they don’t respect children and young people’s rights.

Promoting best practice

The Commissioner has to tell people who work with and for children and young people how to get better at respecting human rights.

Research

The Commissioner should research issues around children and young people’s human rights and get others to carry out research around this. He should tell people what the research finds.

Investigation

The law gives the Commissioner a special power to investigate some issues affecting children’s human rights. There are limits on when this power of investigation can be used.

Reporting to Parliament

The Commissioner has to report to the Scottish Parliament so they know what he’s doing in his job.

What does the law say the Commissioner has to do when carrying out their functions?

Have regard to the UNCRC

The Commissioner must have regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, especially around:

Equal opportunities

The Commissioner must encourage equal opportunities and the observance of equal opportunity requirements.

Involving children and young people

The Commissioner must encourage children and young people to be involved in his work. Children and young people should know:

  • what the Commissioner does,
  • how they can talk to the Commissioner, and
  • how the Commissioner will respond to them.

The Commissioner must consult children and young people on the work they plan to do, and must consult organisations who work with children and young people. When they do this, they must pay special attention to groups of children and young people who have no other good way to make their views known.

The Commissioner also has to have a strategy around involving children and young people.

The Commissioner’s independence

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In their General Comment 2, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child explains how people like Children and Young People’s Commissioners can best protect children’s human rights:

  • help children, young people and adults understand children’s human rights.
  • Make sure children and young people know how to contact them.
  • Listen to all children and young people’s views and make sure others do to.
  • Involve children and young people in their day to day work.
  • Work closely with children and young people’s organisations.
  • Be able to investigate where children’s human rights are not being respected.
  • Report back to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on how their country’s government is respecting children’s human rights.

The Committee also says that like other national human rights institutions, Commissioners should be independent of government.

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The Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Act makes it so the Commissioner is independent of government:

  • the Commissioner is nominated by the whole Scottish Parliament, and appointed by the Queen,
  • the Commissioner can’t be removed from their post without a two-thirds majority vote in the Scottish Parliament.

The Commissioner is accountable to the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland through the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB.) This is a group of MSPs from several political parties who are elected to the Scottish Parliament, not just the parties who are in power.

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The Commissioner and their senior management team oversee the governance and management requirements of our work.

The Commissioner’s funding

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The Commissioner is funded through public money, and ultimately through the people of Scotland.

But isn’t the Commissioner independent? How can that be if they get funding in this way?

The Commissioner’s funding doesn’t come through the Scottish Government, but from the Scottish Parliament.

The Commissioner requires Parliamentary approval of their budget each year via the SPCB.

The Commissioner’s financial year runs from 1 April to 31 March. Each summer, the SPCB writes to the Commissioner seeking a budget for the next financial year and an estimated budget for the year or years after that.

The SPCB looks at the Commissioner’s budget submission and may request oral or written evidence of the bid, agreeing changes if necessary before formal SPCB approval. The Commissioner’s budget submission forms part of the SPCB’s overall budget submission that must be approved by the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee.

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The law that sets out the Commissioner’s role says that the Commissioner or a member of their staff has to be responsible for:

  • signing their accounts
  • making sure their finances are regular and correct
  • making sure resources are used economically, efficiently and effectively.

The Commissioner acts in the role of accountable officer, and in this role they are answerable to the Scottish Parliament.

This means that – while the Commissioner is independent – the law does say they should spend the money they get from the public in a reasonable way, and there are systems in place to make sure this happens in practice.

History of the Commissioner

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Scotland’s first Children and Young People’s Commissioner began work in 2004 after many organisations told the Scottish Government that children and young people should have a new voice to stand up for your rights.

The first Commissioner was called Kathleen Marshall. She spoke and listened to many children and young people, and they helped her decide what the best way was to promote and protect their rights. During the five years she was Commissioner, Kathleen and her team worked hard and accomplished a lot for the children and young people of Scotland.

In 2008, Kathleen’s term as Commissioner ended. The second Commissioner – Tam Baillie – started work in 2009. Tam spent his eight years as Commissioner listening to children and young people and acting on what they said, before he was succeeded by current Commissioner Bruce Adamson in May 2017.

Bruce Adamson’s biography

Before becoming the Commissioner in May 2017, Bruce worked as a lawyer. In this role, he built up over 20 years of experience working on children’s rights issues. Bruce has also:

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