Article 8 Right to a private and family life

Article 8: Your right to a private and family life

The Human Rights Act protects your privacy, your family life, your home and your correspondence.

It’s been used by families who’ve been unlawfully spied on by councils, won crucial rights for LGBT+ and trans people – and defended our fundamental freedoms in the face of increasingly authoritarian mass surveillance.

It means the State must not interfere with your right to privacy, though this can be limited in certain circumstances.

But it also means it must take active steps to protect you, like criminalising extreme privacy breaches by private individuals.

Your privacy is closely linked to many other fundamental rights like the right to respect for your property, freedom of religion, expression and association.

Your private life

The right to a private life protects your dignity and autonomy. It covers both your public and private interactions.

That includes:

  • respect for your sexuality – so investigations into the sexuality of members of the Armed Forces could breach Article 8
  • the right to personal autonomy and physical and psychological integrity – so the right not to be physically interfered with
  • respect for your private and confidential information, particularly the storing and sharing of data
  • the right not to be subject to unlawful state surveillance
  • the right to control the spreading of information about your private life, including photographs taken covertly.

Your family life

There’s no predetermined model of a family or family life. It includes any stable relationship – like those between romantic partners, parents and children, siblings or grandparents and grandchildren.

People often depend on this right when the State tries to separate family members – by taking children into care or deporting somebody, for example.

Respect for your home

You have a right not to have your home life interfered with, including by unlawful surveillance, unlawful entry and arbitrary evictions.

Respect for your correspondence

You have the right to uninterrupted and uncensored communication with others – a right that’s particularly relevant when challenging phone tapping, email surveillance and the reading of letters.

Limitations

Article 8 can be limited in certain circumstances – but any limitation must balance the competing interests of an individual and of the community as a whole.

In particular any limitation must be:

  • covered by law
  • necessary and proportionate
  • for one or more of the following aims:
    • public safety or the country's economic wellbeing
    • prevention disorder or crime
    • protecting health or morals
    • protecting other people's rights and freedoms.
    • national security

Balancing rights

The right to privacy must often be balanced against the right to free expression.

Public figures don’t necessarily enjoy the same privacy as others – sometimes public interest might justify publishing information about them that would otherwise interfere the right to privacy.

Jenny Paton’s story

In 2008, Poole Council received an anonymous tip-off that Jenny Paton's family were lying about living in a certain school catchment area.

In fact, they’d lived there for more than 10 years – but that didn’t stop their council subjecting them to James Bond-style undercover surveillance.

For three weeks officials sat outside Jenny’s home, making notes and taking photographs. They even tailed Jenny and her partner Tim while they drove their children to school.

The family had no idea – until the surveillance was exposed at a meeting with the council.

The Investigatory Powers Tribunal – the court that covers state spying – found Poole Council had breached Article 8.

Jenny said: “I felt justified in my outrage. I felt that the action I’d taken had been worth it – not for me personally, as such, but it did lead to changes in legislation that I felt made the whole battle worthwhile.”