The Human Rights Act
The Human Rights Act is a UK law passed in 1998. It means that you can defend your rights in the UK courts and that public organisations (including the Government, the Police and local councils) must treat everyone equally, with fairness, dignity and respect.
The Human Rights Act protects all of us - young and old, rich and poor. Hopefully you will never need to rely on it, but every year hundreds of people do. Despite this, the Act is frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. We are campaigning to set the record straight. Find out more about our Common Values campaign.
Who can use the Human Rights Act?
The Human Rights Act may be used by every person resident in England or Wales regardless of whether or not they are a British citizen or a foreign national, a child or an adult, a prisoner or a member of the public. It can even be used by companies or organisations (like Liberty).
What does the Human Rights Act actually do?
The human rights that are contained within this law are based on the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Act ‘gives further effect’ to rights and freedoms guaranteed under the European Convention. What this actually means is that it does two things:
- Judges must read and give effect to legislation (other laws) in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights;
- It is unlawful for a public authority to act in a way which is incompatible with a Convention right.
Read more about how the HRA works.
What rights does the Human Rights Act protect?
- The right to life – protects your life, by law. The state is required to investigate suspicious deaths and deaths in custody;
- The prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment – you should never be tortured or treated in an inhuman or degrading way, no matter what the situation;
- Protection against slavery and forced labour – you should not be treated like a slave or subjected to forced labour;
- The right to liberty and freedom – you have the right to be free and the state can only imprison you with very good reason – for example, if you are convicted of a crime;
- The right to a fair trial and no punishment without law - you are innocent until proven guilty. If accused of a crime, you have the right to hear the evidence against you, in a court of law;
- Respect for privacy and family life and the right to marry – protects against unnecessary surveillance or intrusion into your life. You have the right to marry and raise a family;
- Freedom of thought, religion and belief – you can believe what you like and practise your religion or beliefs;
- Free speech and peaceful protest – you have a right to speak freely and join with others peacefully, to express your views;
- No discrimination – everyone’s rights are equal. You should not be treated unfairly – because, for example, of your gender, race, sexuality, religion or age;
- Protection of property, the right to an education and the right to free elections – protects against state interference with your possessions; means that no child can be denied an education and that elections must be free and fair.
What does that mean for me?
If you can show that a public authority has interfered with any of the rights recognised by the Convention you can take action in a number of different ways. For example:
- You could simply write to the public authority concerned and remind them of their legal obligations under the Human Rights Act and ask them to rectify the situation;
- If you went to court the court may find that a particular action (or inaction) of a public authority is (or would be) unlawful. It can tell the public authority to stop interfering with your right or to take action to protect your right;
- If the court is satisfied that a provision of a law is incompatible with a Convention right, it may make a declaration of that incompatibility. This is just a formal legal statement that the particular law interferes with human rights. It does not have immediate effect but strongly encourages Parliament to amend or repeal the law in question.