Human Rights Act 1998
Article Covers: An Introduction to the basics of the Human Rights Act 1998
Introduction – Human Rights Act, 1998
In today’s society it literally is vital to be aware of your rights and entitlements. Whether you’re dealing with a Neighbour From Hell (NFH) or any other area in your life where your rights come into the equation, it’s definitely worth your while to take a peek at the Human Rights Act of 1998, especially if it’s a new piece of legislation for you.
Contrary to the date of the Human Rights Act (1998) – the act didn’t come into force until 2nd October 2000 and the creation of the legislation stems from the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights and Freedoms into the UK law base.
This convention (adopted in 1950 and was approved/endorsed by the UK in 1951) is directly enforceable in the courts of the United Kingdom and can further be used as a defence mechanism in proceedings that public authorities have originally initiated.
When attempting to interpretate the convention, it’s useful to keep these following principles in mind:
It’s a practical and effective interpretation.
The rights stated are interpreted on a widely used field, and can be used vastly. In opposition to this, the limitations are narrowly interpreted.
The Act is a ‘living instrument’ (look at this in two ways, like any legislation it is updatable, changeable and can be added to, it also defines rights within life). When any rights are interfered with they must be in proportion to the originally intended objective.
Thoughts about the HRA 1998
“Over time, the Act will bring about the creation of a human rights culture in Britain…it will have profound implications for the conduct of public authorities” (Jack Straw)
“A field day for crack pots, a pain in the neck for Judges, and a gold mine for lawyers” (Lord McCluskey)
So whether you hold positive or more critical views of the Human Rights Act, the main thing is it’s here to stay. Like much newer legislation brought into UK law, time will remain the truest test of it’s usefulness, practical application and if it works in a fair, just, unbiased and effective manner.
The HRA could well be of interest to you if you have a dispute with your Local Authority and you feel your Human Rights may have been overlooked or ignored.
Main Sections and Focus of the HRA 1998
The Human Rights Act categorically states that all public authorities must act in a way which is compatible with the convention rights. This also includes ‘Governing Bodies’.
Within specific situations, courts do have the options to do the following:
Totally quash and ignore subordinate legislation if applicable. So, in other words, the HRA ’98 is the ultimate piece of legislation, it has superior power over other legislation.
Courts can make declarations for primary legislation incompatibility (dependent on the situation and those aspects).
Local Authorities have already been mentioned, but any ‘victim’ or individual acting on their behalf can bring proceedings against a public authority in situations where a breach of a convention right has occurred. An individual can further instigate the convention rights in proceedings.
A ‘victim’ may be an individual who has been affected in a direct manner by a deliberate or inadvertent failure or omission from a public authority.
It’s important to note that there can sometimes be many public interest groups and these do not always fall within the definition of what constitutes a ‘victim’.
Convention Protects Certain Rights (Part A)
(With some examples)
Article 2: The Right To Life
“Everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No-one shall be deprived of his life intentionally”.
A biased piece of writing towards ‘his’ but of course applicable to every individual regardless of their gender.
You could apply this to situations in a hospital for example, where patients have specific instructions restricted (and ‘decided’ for patients) to them by medical professionals which state they should not be resuscitated (‘DNR’) in situations of possible/imminent death.
Article 3: The Right to Freedom from Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
“No-one shall be subjected to torture or to inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment”
Have a look at the differences between inhumane and degrading; these specify that inhumane treatment is a ‘minimum level of suffering’ and degrading treatment is a ‘gross humiliation’.
Of course, we could argue that such levels of treatment are very subjectively based and open to interpretation on each individual basis and a relative scale.
Neighbours From Hell inflicting bullying and harassment could well constitute inhumane treatment, whereas gross humiliation could apply in situations where a person’s choices, decisions and independence are wilfully removed by force or inadvertent actions.
Article 4: The Right to Freedom from Slavery, Servitude and Forced or Compulsory Labour
“No one shall be held in slavery or servitude. No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour”
In a situation where an individual is forced to undertake physically based work as a sanction or punishment in answer or ‘solution’ to their unwelcome or inappropriate behaviour, this would be in direct violation to Article 4.
Article 5: The Right to Liberty and Security of Person (but subject to a UK derogation)
“Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. There shall be no deprivation of liberty except in accordance with lawfully prescribed procedures”
This could be applicable in cases where school children are involved in detention after school for displaying poor behaviour in the school environment; the age, religious needs (if any) and home travel arrangements of all pupils would be factors that affect the ‘reasonableness’ of this.
Article 6: The Right to a Fair and Public Trial with a reasonable time
“In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law”
This is relevant to many different areas, but could possibly be applied to school exclusions and school admissions, child protection issues and mental health situations.
Convention Protects Certain Rights (Part B)
(With some examples)
Article 7: The Right to Freedom from Retrospective Criminal Law and No Punishment without Law
“No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed.”
So, a Neighbour From Hell couldn’t be held guilty say of the hypothetical offence of “making too much noise above the set limits” if they had actually stopped it before a new law was introduced.
Article 8: The Right to Respect for Private and Family Life, Home and Correspondence
“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence”
Interference can be permitted where it is lawful and necessary. This could be valid in a democratic society and for public safety, crime prevention, rights/freedoms of others and so on.
Article 9: The Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”
If children are being ‘forced’ to collectively worship in a state school, this could well be an infringement on this right. People have the right to practice their desired religion.
Article 10: The Right to Freedom of Expression
“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers”
This could be seen as a cryptically worded convention article but could include an instance where issues of homosexuality are promoted and discussed in schools and education.
Article 11: The Right to Freedom of Assembly and Association
“Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association with others”
All people have the right to demonstrate for instance within UK laws. The right to have an association with a particular political group without interference. Again, where such activity is legal, e.g. the association with known criminals may not be included within this right!
Article 12: The Right to Marry and found a Family
“Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to found a family, according to the national laws governing the exercise of this right.”
An obvious application. Whether or not you believe that same sex couples should have the right to marry though, is a right of course ‘governed’ by current UK legislation.
Article 14: The prohibition of Discrimination in the Enjoyment of Convention Rights
“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.”
This Article only applies when a violation of another convention right has been alleged or proven.
Article 1 of Protocol 1: The right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions and protection of property
Article 2 of Protocol 2: The Right to access to education (subject to a reservation of the UK)
Article 3 of Protocol 1: The Right to free elections
Article 4 of Protocol 1: The Right not to be subjected to the Death Penalty
Rights within the Convention
Different classes apply to rights within the Convention Rights and they can be termed as ‘absolute’, ‘limited’ or ‘qualified’ rights, here’s a short explanation of each:
Absolute rights are specific, say ‘protection from torture’ (article 3), prohibition of slavery (article 4)
Limited rights can include the ‘right to liberty’ (article 5)
Qualified rights look at areas of ‘private and family life’ (article 8) and rights to freedom of expression (article 10)
Interference with Rights that are Qualified
Such ‘interference’ is possible where there is either a basis in law, or where it is necessary in a democratic society (e.g. to pursue a legitimate claim, a pressing social need is fulfilled).
Also interference is possible where there are wider interests in the areas of public safety, national security, economic health of the country, crime/disorder prevention or to protect the health/morals/rights/freedoms of others.
Where relevant and applicable courts have a number of options open to them when implementing the Human Rights Act. They can grant any remedy or relief they feel is appropriate and just with a remedy that has to be effective. The courts can also include damages within their decision.
For More Help
To find out more about the Human Rights Act and your rights under it, you may need to talk to a legal professional who specialises in the area of Human Rights. The area is a complex and often complicated one which also could be affected by ongoing and future cases that are brought to courts under the legislation.
You can also join the forum community to ask for more help and information – it’s very busy and has a lot of good information.
This article last revised: 16th July 2003