“Human rights” is the name given to certain rights which are considered particularly important,and so have been given specific protection in international and national law. The first major piece of human rights legislation was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948. The most relevant document for UK citizens however is the European Convention on Human Rights because:
- it has been brought into UK law under the Human Rights Act 1998
- all new UK laws must comply with Convention Rights (rights under the European Convention on Human Rights) – or have a statement explaining why they do not
- all UK public authorities must act in accordance with Convention rights
- you can make a legal claim to protect your Convention rights – in any UK court or, ultimately, at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Convention rights include :
- the right to life (Article 2)
- the right not to be tortured, or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3)
- the right not be enslaved or to do forced labour (Article 4)
- the right to a fair trial (Article 6)
- the right to respect for private and family life (Article 8)
- the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Article 9)
- the right to freedom of expression (Article 10)
The Convention is a “living document” and the Articles are interpreted by courts against the background of society at the time. Sometimes rights have to be balanced against each other (the right to respect for privacy and the right to freedom of expression is a good example). Human rights cases are often very complex and can raise very difficult (but also very interesting) questions.
You should not generally have to bring a case under the Human Rights Act, but this page from the Equality and Human Rights Commission explains what to do if you think your human rights have been “breached” (ie not respected in practice).
You might be interested in our other pages on your legal rights: