What is the Human Rights Act? The Human Rights Act 1998 (also known as the Act or the HRA) came into force in the United Kingdom in October 2000. It is composed of a series of sections that have the effect of codifying the protections in the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. All public bodies (such as courts, police, local governments, hospitals, publicly funded schools, and others) and other bodies carrying out public functions have to comply with the Convention rights. There are 16 basic rights taken from the European Convention on Human Rights. These rights not only affect matters of life and death like freedom from torture and killing but also affect your rights in everyday life: what you can say and do, your beliefs, your right to a fair trial and many other basic entitlements. Right to life Prohibition of torture Prohibition of slavery and forced labour Right to liberty and security Right to a fair trial No punishment without law Right to respect for private and family life Freedom of thought, conscience and religion Freedom of expression Freedom of assembly and association Right to marry Prohibition of discrimination Protection of property Right to education Right to free elections Abolition of the death penalty What does each of the Human Rights mean? Right to life This Article is the belief that a human being has an essential right to live, particularly that a human being has the right not to be killed by another human being. The concept of a right to life is central to debates on the issues of abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, self defense and war. Prohibition of torture No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. This Article is an absolute right, which means that it provides absolute protection against treatment which amounts to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment, with no exceptions. Prohibition of slavery and forced labour This Act protects your human right not to be held in slavery or servitude. Slavery is when someone actually owns you like a piece of property. Servitude is similar. You might live in the person’s property, work for them and be unable to leave, but they don’t officially own you. The law also protects you from forced labour forcing you to work under the threat of punishment that you have not agreed to accept. Right to liberty and security You have a right to your personal freedom. The government cannot take away your freedom by detaining you without good reason - even for a short period. This Act provides that if you are arrested, you have the right to: • • • • • • be told in a language you understand why you have been arrested and what charges you face be taken to court promptly bail (temporary release while the court process continues) subject to certain conditions have a trial within a reasonable time go to court to challenge your detention if you think it is unlawful compensation if you have been unlawfully detained. Right to a fair trial Everyone has the right to a fair trial, and the courts have a duty to uphold this. Things that make a trial fair include: • • • • • being held in public being held within a reasonable time being independent and impartial, and the presumption of innocence If you are charged with a criminal offence, you have the following minimum rights: • • • • • • • • to be told promptly, in a language you understand and in detail, the accusation against you and why you have been accused to remain silent to have adequate time and facilities to prepare your defence to have access to all relevant information to defend yourself in person or choose who will defend you to be given free legal assistance if you cannot afford it to have witnesses for and against you treated in the same way, and to have the free assistance of an interpreter if you cannot understand or speak the language used in court. No punishment without law You cannot be charged with a criminal offence for an action that was not a crime when you committed it. This means that public authorities have to make sure that laws explain clearly what counts as a criminal offence, so that you know when you are breaking the law. It is also against the law for the courts to give you a greater sentence than was available at the time you committed an offence. The right to no punishment without law is absolute. This means that it cannot be restricted in any way. Right to respect for private and family life This Act protects your rights to respect for your private life, your family life, your home and your correspondence. But at the same time you must also respect the rights of other people. The right to a private life means that you have the right to carry on your life privately, without government interference, as long as you also respect the rights of other people. The courts have interpreted the concept of ‘private life’ in a very broad way. It covers things like your right to choose your sexual identity, your lifestyle, and the way you look and dress. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change their religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in the community with others and in public or private, to manifest their religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance. Freedom of expression You have the right to hold your own opinions and to express them freely without government interference. This includes the right to express your views aloud or through: • • • • published articles, books or leaflets television or radio broadcasting works of art communication on the internet Freedom of assembly and association You have the right to protest by holding meetings and demonstrations with other people. But you must act peacefully and without violence or threat of violence. You also have the right to form and be part of a trade union, a political party or another association or voluntary group. Nobody has the right to force you to join a protest, trade union, political party or another association. Right to marry Men and women of marriageable age have the right to marry and to start a family. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2002 that this right extends to transsexual people who are now able to marry or enter civil partnerships in their acquired gender because of the Gender Recognition Act (2004). The Civil Partnership Act 2004 means that gay men and lesbian women in the UK are now able to register civil partnerships. Couples who register a civil partnership have the same rights as heterosexual married couples in areas like tax, social security, inheritance and workplace benefits. Prohibition of discrimination Discrimination occurs when you are treated less favourably than another person in a similar situation and this treatment cannot be objectively and reasonably justified. It is important to understand that the Human Rights Act does not protect you from discrimination in all areas of your life. Instead it protects you from discrimination in the enjoyment of those human rights protected by the European Convention of Human Rights. This reflects the core idea that all of us, no matter who we are, enjoy the same human rights and should have equal access to them. Protection of property You have the right to enjoy your property peacefully. Property can include things like land, houses, shares, licences, leases, patents, money, a pension and certain types of welfare benefits. A public authority cannot take away property or place restrictions on your use of your property without very good reason. This right applies to companies as well as individuals. Right to education Everybody has the right to an effective education. Parents also have a right to ensure that their religious and philosophical beliefs are respected during the children’s education. Right to free elections The Human Rights Act requires the government to support your right to free expression by holding free elections at reasonable intervals. The elections must enable you to vote in secret. The right to free elections is absolute, which means that it must never be restricted in any way. However, the government can put some limits on the way elections are held, and it can decide what kind of electoral system to have – such as ‘first past the post’ or proportional representation. The right to free elections only applies to those who are eligible to vote under UK law. Abolition of the death penalty The Act completely abolished the death penalty in the United Kingdom, effective on royal assent. Previously to this, the death penalty had already been abolished for murder, but it remained in force for certain military offences (although these provisions had not been used for several decades) Information about the Human Rights Acts is taken from the Equality and Human Rights Commission website. You can find out more information about Human Rights by visiting the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) website.
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