Human Rights Law
In view of recent global events and the myriad applications of human rights law, human rights have become an increasingly important topic. In the UK, fundamental civil liberties and political rights are guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UK Human Rights Act 1998 that came into force on 2 October 2000 officially brought a whole range of universal human rights into our legal system. The Act eliminated the need for British citizens to sue for breaches of any of the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Under the Human Rights Act all instances of the Convention breaches can be brought before the UK courts.
How does this work?
All legislation passed by the UK government has to take into account the principles contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. Any legislation that is found incompatible with the Convention can be declared such by a higher court in the UK. Ministers will then have to work on amending the legislation and ensure full compliance.
Moreover, any public authority such as your local council has to act in accordance with the ECHR. Similarly, any decisions made by the UK courts must take into account any previous precedents set by the European Court of Human Rights.
A good example of recent use of the Human Rights Act is a number of famous individuals who sought injunctions preventing newspapers from publishing details about their private lives.
What human rights do I have?
The Human Rights Act provides you with the following rights:
- Right to life – this means that nobody can kill you or put you in danger and governments in making decisions should take into account their impact on your life.
- Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment – this offers protection from both physical and mental instances of suffering caused by someone acting in official capacity (i.e. police officer). This article also prevents people from being extradited if their lives could be at risk.
- Freedom from slavery – your protection against forced labour is absolute, but does not apply to work done as a part of community or prison sentence.
- Right to liberty and security protects individuals against unlawful detentions by public authorities such as police.
- Right to start a family.
- Right to receive education – parents have the right to introduce their children to their own beliefs.
- Right to choose your representatives in free elections.
- Right to peacefully enjoy your property. This includes a broad range of things including intellectual property such as patents and copyrights, and physical property such as houses or land.
- Right to a fair trial gives you a right to be to receive unbiased public hearing. The hearing has to take place within a reasonable time, be heard by impartial decision-making body, you must be provided with all relevant information about your case and allow you to be represented; and if necessary have an interpreter with you.
- Article 7 of the ECHR ensures that public authorities clearly define what the law is and that you are not sentenced with a term beyond the time that the law specifies for the offence committed.
- Right to privacy and family life – this article protects you and your family against excessive interferences with your privacy by the government. Privacy in this context covers your lifestyle, sexuality, your physical appearance and physical integrity (i.e. public authorities cannot take blood samples from you without your permission).
- Freedom of thought, belief and religion – you can change your religion freely anytime you want. Nobody can force you to change your belief or convert to another religion.
- Freedom to express yourself – this right is in particular used by those involved in the media sector. Freedom of expression ensures that people can freely comment and criticise on things without being in fear of being prosecuted for it. This right is qualified and can be limited if public authorities can demonstrate that it is necessary due to national security issues etc.
- Freedom of association – you have a right to take part in demonstrations and meetings as long as you act in a peaceful way. This right can be limited if it poses a risk to security.
- Finally, you have the right not to be discriminated in respect of any of the above liberties and human rights.
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