23 March 2018

70 years ago the world came together to set down the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the rights we should all enjoy simply because we are human. This year we'll be celebrating universal human rights, and bringing them home in the Human Rights Act which also marks its 20th anniversary. Join us in the celebrations and sign our digital birthday card for universal human rights here. Read on to learn more about what these rights mean in our everyday lives...

The right to liberty was set down in Article 9 UDHR, and is now protected in UK law through Article 5 of the Human Rights Act. This protects your right to not have extreme restrictions placed on your movement. This means that you have a right to freedom of movement and a right to not be detained or restricted unreasonably. It is not a right to do whatever you want.

The right to liberty can be restricted when necessary under very specific circumstances, for example detention under the Mental Health Act or being sent to prison after being found guilty of a crime. The specific circumstances when public authorities can restrict your right to liberty are written in the law. 

When the right to liberty is restricted, the appropriate legal safeguards must be followed. For example anyone arrested must be told why (in a way that they understand) and anyone detained must be able to challenge their detention.

In real life: challenging unlawful deprivation of liberty

Steven is a young man with a learning disability. He lived at home with his father Mark, but went into a local authority support unit for a short stay when Mark was ill. The local authority then kept Steven there for over a year against his and his father’s wishes. When Steven tried to leave the unit after several months, the local authority signed a Deprivation of Liberty Authorisation (intended as safeguard to ensure that the right to liberty isn't restricted more than absolutely necessary in hospitals and care homes). Later, the local authority said they were looking for a long term residential placement for Steven miles away from his father.

Steven and Mark took a human rights case through the courts to challenge this. The court decided that Steven’s right to liberty had been breached because of the delay in making the assessment and because the Deprivation of Liberty assessment had not taken into account Steven and Mark’s wishes. 

Mark said: 

The Human Rights Act saved Steven's life. If we hadn't used the Act to challenge the decisions about his care, Steven would have faced a life in public care he didn't want or need and he would now be living with only Skype contact with me. It's a horrendous thought.

(Hillingdon London Borough Council v Neary, 2011)

In real life: informal patient challenges not being allowed off ward

Jenny was an informal patient in a hospital (which means she wasn't detained under the Mental Health Act). Staff told her that she was not allowed to go off the ward to visit the shops or go for a coffee. When Jenny’s advocate questioned the hospital staff about this, they said they didn’t feel she was well enough to leave the ward. Jenny’s advocate explained to the staff that Jenny was effectively being unlawfully detained and that this might be a breach of her right to liberty, as protected by the Human Rights Act).

After discussing staff concern’s about her safety, Jenny agreed that a staff member could accompany her off the ward. The situation was then discussed with the ward manager and Jenny left the ward to visit the shops, and was safe.

(Real life example from Mind in Brighton and Hove, a partner organisation on BIHR’s Care and Support project)

Take action, join in!

Show your support and sign our digital 70th birthday card for universal human rights here - it's a quick and simple way to have your voice heard and join others across the UK.

Remember we're running a digital campaign between 14 - 23 March; follow the discussion on social media using #MarchforHumanRights and #celebrating70. We'd love for you to join the conversation.

Check out our 70 years of universal human rights hub for more ways to join in.