17 years ago, the Human Rights Act became law in the UK and we think that's worth celebrating!

To mark the occasion, over 17 days we are 'unwrapping' the Human Rights Act - with information & stories, we'll be sharing how the Act works and how it makes a difference. Many of the stories include examples taken from BIHR's work with people, community groups and public services.

Article 6: Right to a fair trial

The Human Rights Act protects your right to a fair trial.

This means that you have a right to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial decision-maker (which was established by law). A fair trial also covers your right to have all the relevant information and an explanation of how the court or decision-making authority reached its decision.

The right to a fair and public hearing is engaged when a person is charged with a criminal offence and/or they have to go to court. This right also applies to public body decision-making procedures when there is a significant impact on a person’s civil rights or obligations, such as those in property law, family law and employment law. For example, the right to a fair hearing is relevant to public bodies making decisions about welfare benefits.The right to a fair trial has also made sure that disciplinary hearings against public sector employees are fair. It is worth knowing, however, that the right to a public hearing does not always apply to cases involving immigration law, extradition, tax and voting rights. 

The right to a fair trial is an absolute right, which means that it is never acceptable for a public authority to limit or restrict this right. 

In real life: Right to a fair trial

Fair appeal process for welfare benefit decisions 

Daniel had applied to receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), but was refused after a medical examination. Daniel had asked the Jobcentre Plus to contact his GP to help with the evidence required for the application, the Jobcentre Plus did not contact the GP or Daniel's social worker.

Daniel appealed the decision to refuse him ESA. At the First Tier Tribunal, Daniel had a right to an oral hearing, but he chose not to because of advice from the Jobcentre Plus. The appeal was dismissed.

The decision was appealed again and this time went to the Upper Tribunal. Considering that Daniel had received bad advice from the Jobcentre Plus, his mental health issues, and the fact that his GP had not been contacted, the Upper Tribunal found that Daniel did not have a fair hearing of his appeal, as was his right under the Human Rights Act. 

(DG v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 2010)

Right to know about & be represented in court

Aneta and Bobbie, who both have learning disabilities, had a baby. The birth had been traumatic, so Aneta and the baby spent a week in hospital to recover. When the baby was ready to be discharged from hospital, the local authority removed the child from the parents and placed in him in care with his grandparents. Whilst there had been no pre-birth referral to children's services, concerns had been raised about the parents' ability to care for the child in the longer-term because Aneta had little family support and Bobbie had been expressing 'unorthodox' views about the benefits of formula milk. The baby had been slow to feed (not concerning considering the traumatic birth), but had started to gain weight. It had previously been agreed that Bobbie's father (the baby's grandfather) would move in with the couple to help out initially. 

The interim care order to remove the baby from his parents was made after a Family Court hearing at which Aneta and Bobbie were not present nor represented. In fact, Aneta and Bobbie were unaware that the local authority was at court that afternoon, and the authority "forgot to notify Cafcass" (the public service which represents children in family court cases). The local authority had also incorrectly told the Family Court that Aneta and Bobbie agreed with the plan to remove the baby from their care. Aneta disputed receiving information about the fact that the local authority would be applying for an interim care order, and when the social worker visited the ward, Bobbie was not present. 

Taking a human rights case to challenge the local authority's actions, Bobbie and Aneta raised their right to a fair trial. The local authority agreed that they had violated the couple's right to a fair trial, as well as their right to family life (also protected by the Human Rights Act). 

(CZ & Kirklees Council, 2017)