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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Human rights

Anyone who is in the UK for any reason has fundamental human rights which the government and public authorities are legally obliged to respect. These became law as part of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Human Rights Act

The Human Rights Act 1998 gives further legal effect in the UK to the fundamental rights and freedoms contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. These rights not only impact matters of life and death, they also affect the rights you have in your everyday life: what you can say and do, your beliefs, your right to a fair trial and other similar basic entitlements.

Most rights have limits to ensure that they do not unfairly damage other people's rights. However, certain rights – such as the right not to be tortured – can never be limited by a court or anybody else.

You have the responsibility to respect other people's rights, and they must respect yours. 

Your human rights are:

  • the right to life
  • freedom from torture and degrading treatment
  • freedom from slavery and forced labour
  • the right to liberty
  • the right to a fair trial
  • the right not to be punished for something that wasn't a crime when you did it
  • the right to respect for private and family life
  • freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and freedom to express your beliefs
  • freedom of expression
  • freedom of assembly and association
  • the right to marry and to start a family
  • the right not to be discriminated against in respect of these rights and freedoms
  • the right to peaceful enjoyment of your property
  • the right to an education
  • the right to participate in free elections
  • the right not to be subjected to the death penalty

If any of these rights and freedoms are breached, you have a right to an effective solution in law, even if the breach was by someone in authority, such as, for example, a police officer.

Exercising your human rights

...see if the problem can be resolved without going to court

If you are in a situation in which you believe that your human rights are being violated, it's advisable to see if the problem can be resolved without going to court by using mediation or an internal complaints body.

Where you believe your rights have not been respected and you cannot resolve the problem outside court, you are entitled to bring a case before the appropriate court or tribunal in the UK. The court or tribunal will then consider your case. 

Seeking legal advice

Before you decide to take any legal action is important that you seek legal advice.

The Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to help you and Community Legal Advice can put you in touch with advice providers in your area. There are also a number of Law Centres around the UK, which can offer you advice and help on a range of issues.

Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service provides a leaflet, 'The Human Rights Act 1998 – Information for Court Users', which provides information on how to issue a claim for monies owed or damages under the Human Rights Act. It also sets out some important things to consider before making such an application.

Free and foreign language information about the Human Rights Act

A free guide to the Human Rights Act has been produced by the Ministry of Justice. There's also a booklet explaining the Human Rights Act in everyday terms to people with learning disabilities. Copies can be downloaded from the ministry's website, or hard copies can be ordered free of charge by calling 020 3334 3734. The guide to the act is available in English and Welsh, and versions in large print, Braille or on audio cassette are available on request.

Guides to the act in Arabic, Cantonese, English, French, Gujarati, Polish, Punjabi, Somali, Tamil, Urdu and Welsh are available via the links below.

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