Kamena Dorling is Head of Policy and Advocacy at Article 39. Article 39 is a small, independent charity which fights for the rights of children living in state and privately-run institutions (boarding and residential schools, children’s homes, immigration detention, mental health inpatient units and prisons) in England.

Please note, this is a guest blog and views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of BIHR.

For over 20 years the Human Rights Act (HRA) has given us all, children and adults alike, protection against unlawful actions by the state and a way of ensuring that our basic rights and freedoms are upheld. No matter where we were born, how much money or wealth we have, whether we feel heard and respected in society generally, when it comes to this single Act of Parliament, we all as human beings matter equally.

 

The global commitment to minimum standards for the treatment of all children is set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a binding international treaty which has been ratified by every country in the world except the United States. However, the UNCRC has still not been made fully part of UK law, so violations of children’s rights in that treaty frequently go unchecked. This makes the HRA even more vital for children.

 

The HRA has, for example, been used to successfully challenge public authorities where they have failed to protect children against abuse in foster care and ensured that children are not inappropriately stopped from seeing and maintaining their relationships with their parents. It has been used to protect child victims of trafficking from criminalisation and to prevent the use of violent pain-inducing techniques on children in prisons. Seminal cases based on a child’s right to a private and family life (protected under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)) have helped ensure that the interests of children are properly considered in decisions by public bodies and that children’s wishes and feelings are taken seriously. The HRA has helped protect the right to education for all children and young people and led to the creation of a new statutory role to protect the rights of children in care, the independent reviewing officer

 

We see the importance of the HRA every day in our work at Article 39, a small charity that fights for the rights of children living in state and privately-run institutions in England through, in part, legal education, policy advocacy and strategic litigation. We work to raise awareness among children and those who support them of their rights and help them to use the law to bring about positive change. The HRA has allowed children, and those representing their interests, including Article 39, to challenge the decisions or actions of public bodies which potentially breach their rights We know from our extensive work with independent advocates that the threat of legal action is often enough to change decisions in the interests of children. The HRA's importance cannot be overestimated for vulnerable children who are so often powerless in relation to public authorities and those performing public functions. Bringing cases to court can not only result in a remedy for the child or young person but can also bring about wider improvements to policy and practice which helps many others.

 

The HRA ensures that all governments, of whatever political persuasion, have comprehensive obligations to protect children’s rights and provides critical checks and balances on the government. Any dilution of the HRA, or how it is used, would seriously imperil the protection and well-being of the children we serve at Article 39, and we must (and will) do all we can to defend it.