Slater and Gordon Lawyers are supporting the British Institute of Human Rights  as they celebrate 15 years of the Human Rights Act and the difference it has made to the lives of ordinary people.


Friday 2nd October 2015 marks the start of 15 Days of Action, a BIHR campaign to raise awareness of the positive changes the Human Rights Act has brought to the lives of ordinary people in the UK. In addition to blogging daily throughout this 15-day period, the BIHR will also be embarking on a Human Rights Tour – a series of free-to-attend community events that will give people across the UK an opportunity to find out more about the Human Rights Act and how it protects the basic freedoms that we often take for granted.


Myself and the other human rights lawyers at Slater and Gordon are delighted to see so much positive publicity for the Human Rights Act, especially at a time when its very existence is under threat. With the newly-elected Government proposing to scrap the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, it’s time to stand up the Human Rights Act and to celebrate its 15th birthday.


History of the Human Rights Act


Our Human Rights Act came into force on 2nd October 2000 and enshrined into domestic law the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).


How and when the ECHR came to be is something we must never forget. It was Winston Churchill who was instrumental its creation in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, vowing that the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany must never again be allowed to happen in a democratic and free world.


The ECHR is recognised as being the backbone of modern human rights legislation but the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals in this country goes all the way back to the Magna Carta, which celebrated its 800th birthday in June this year. The principle behind the Magna Carta is that nobody – not even the King (or the state in modern times) – is above the rule of law.


How the Human Rights Act has Helped Ordinary People


In all of the recent media articles about the Human Rights Act, there has been a failure to report positive stories and promote the good work the Act has done for everyday people in the UK.


Fundamental rights such as the right to life, right to a fair trial and the right not to be tortured are now enshrined into our domestic law thanks to the Human Rights Act. The Act also protects some of society’s most vulnerable people such as survivors of sexual abuse, the elderly and people with disabilities.


The Human Rights Act protects everyone in the UK, whether they are a British or foreign national, young or old, an adult or a child, a prisoner or a free member of society, disabled or able-bodied, gay or straight.


My colleagues and I at Slater and Gordon have used the Human Rights Act over the years to protect and defend the rights of some of our most vulnerable clients. We have seen first-hand how the Act has protected people who have been sexually abused and how it has helped families at inquests access information about how their loved ones have died.


We have seen how the Human Rights Act has helped young people with learning difficulties get access to education that meets their needs. Some of our elderly clients have been able to get access to essential care services thanks to the protection afforded by the Human Rights Act.


At a time when our Human Rights Act is under threat, we’d do well to remember the words of the late Lord Bingham who, during a 2009 speech to a Liberty conference, defended the Act by asking: 


“Which of these rights, I ask, would we wish to discard? Are any of them trivial, superfluous, unnecessary? Are any them un-British?”


It’s a very important question – and one which will be answered during BIHR’s 15 Days of Action when everyone across the UK will be able to learn more about the positive impact the Human Rights Act has had on so many of us.


Kim Harrison is the National Practice Development Leader for Human Rights at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.