Human Rights Act 1998

Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act 1998 was introduced to protect the rights of individuals. This Act states that government organisations, local authorities and the police must treat everyone equally and with dignity, respect and fairness.

In the UK anyone can use the Act regardless of whether they were born here. Children, adults, members of the public and even prisoners can exercise their human rights by applying the terms of the Act.

Human Rights Act Image

The rights within the Act are based on the principles outlined by the European Convention on Human Rights (EHCR).

The Human Rights Act Principles

From 1998 applies to the UK and details the freedoms and rights which apply to all individuals under the European Convention. In line with these principles;

  • A judge must implement legislation in a way that fits in with the rights outlined in the Convention
  • Rights within the convention must be upheld by a public authority. It is unlawful if they do not comply

There are a number of rights protected by the Human Rights Act including;

  • The right to life – In the eyes of the law, your life is protected and if there are any suspicious deaths including a death in custody the state is obliged to launch an investigation
  • Prohibition of torture or treatment of an individual which is inhuman
  • Individuals should be protected from any form of forced labour or slavery
  • Every person should have a right to freedom and liberty
  • Where applicable, an individual has a right to a fair trial and should be treated as innocent until they are proven otherwise
  • Privacy and family life should be protected and respected and safeguards against unnecessary surveillance or intrusion
  • Everyone should be able to exercise freedom in relation to their beliefs, religion and thoughts
  • Everyone has equal rights and no one should be treated in an unfair way
  • Property is protected, so too is the right to education and free elections

Breaches by Public Body

If you can provide proof that a public authority has breached any of the rights that are stated in the Convention you can take a particular course of action such as;

  • Writing to the public authority and reminding them that they are legally obliged to comply with the Human Rights Act and ask them to address the situation
  • If you proceed to court, a court may find that the conduct of the public authority was unlawful and it can instruct that the authority takes action to protect your rights
  • If a section of the law is incompatible with the Convention it may make a declaration which is a legal statement that the law restricts the human rights of an individual. Although this cannot be implemented with immediate effect, it does encourage Parliament to repeal or amend the law

The Human Rights Act states that the rights within the European Convention are incorporated within UK law through three main ways;

  • All UK law must be fully interpreted so that it can be used with the Human Rights Act
  • If an Act of Parliament in any way breaches these rights, a court can make a declaration that the legislation is incompatible with the rights.
  • A public authority cannot conduct themselves in such a way that is incompatible with the human rights guidance unless they are under a statutory duty to do so

Statement of Compatibility

Under Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998, a Minister who is accountable for a Bill in the Houses of Parliament must submit a statement before the Second Reading of the Bill to state that the Bill is either compatible or incompatible with human rights regulations, but the government still wishes to go ahead with the Bill.

Although this statement is not binding if one is made it should be considered to encourage a Minister to take into consideration human rights and any implications before the legislation is introduced. A statement of compatibility can often initiate a debate in Parliament about compatibility issues.

Joint Committee on Human Rights

Introduced in 2001, the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) is a Parliamentary Committee which consists of 12 members. These members have been selected from the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The purpose of the Committee is to take into consideration issues relating to human rights in the UK, carefully and thoroughly reviewing draft legislation.

Remedial Orders

If a UK court has made a declaration of incompatibility, the legislation is still valid and it is up to Parliament to decide whether they wish to amend the legislation.

If amendments are to be made, they can under Section 10, Schedule 2 of the Human Rights Act using what is known as a Remedial Order. If it is decided that there are strong reasons to amend the legislation, they can make an Order that instructs the legislation is to be amended. Draft Orders must be submitted to Parliament for 60 days. Before it becomes binding the Order needs to be approved by the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

There are exceptions to this rule however. In a situation where the Order is urgent, an Interim Order can be made. This will enable any issues surrounding human rights to be dealt with quickly rather than waiting a considerable period of time for a legislative slot to arise.

Declaration of incompatibility

In accordance with Section 4 of the Human Rights Act, a Higher Court such as the Court of Appeal, a High Court or Supreme Court determines that an Act of Parliament is incompatible with human rights guidance it can create a declaration of incompatibility.

What is a public authority?

When speaking about human rights, it often refers to a public authority. This is any person or organisation who function to serve the public such as a court or tribunal.

People who deliver a public service include;

  • The Police
  • A local authority
  • A government department
  • Statutory bodies
  • Management or staff who work in a prison
  • Personal care, nursing or accommodation providers who have been classed as such by the Health and Social Care Act of 2008

What is not a public authority?

The following are not public authorities;

  • Parliament or an MP or peer
  • Any individual acting in a private capacity
  • A company who do not deliver public services or a company not in receipt of public funding

Breach and Remedies

If it is found that a public authority has breached a human right, courts have a number of powers;

  • A judicial review can be instructed which will review the lawfulness of the decision by a public authority. If the court reviews the case and find that the decision made by the public authority was unlawful, they can revoke the decision or prevent the public authority from taking a certain form of action. In the majority of situations, the court will order that the original decision is revoked and the public authority are required to make the decision again
  • Compensation can be awarded, but they will take into consideration the conduct of the applicant
  • The Human Rights Act 1998 was introduced as a safeguard and to protect the rights of everyone living in the UK. Although it can seem quite daunting to bring a case for a breach of human rights, any individual who believes that this has occurred is entitled to do so.

About the author:

This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.