2018 is over, just like that, quick as a flash and here we all are drinking green smoothies and wishing we were still eating mince pies in our pyjamas.

It was a year of notable human rights anniversaries, the 70th year of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the 20th birthday our very own Human Rights Act. Naturally, we utilised these calendar dates to bring people together and to shout even louder about the difference human rights make for people every day here in the UK. Our Director Sanchita Hosali blogged about 20 years of our Human Rights Act and the incredible difference it’s made, outside of the courtrooms for hundreds of people like Sarah and Debartri. You can read it here.

But 2018, was also the year of some extremely significant human rights legal cases. Here just 3 of the cases that caught our attention and why;

Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis (Appellant) v DSD and another (Respondents)

In February we saw the Supreme Court rule that the police owed human rights damages to two victims of John Worboys- the black cap driver responsible for a large number of sexual offences. Our Supreme Court found the police, as a public body, accountable under the Human Rights Act. This case is crucial because it shows that even when crimes are committed by a private citizen, the state can still be held to account. In this example, the police for failing to undertake a proper investigation which left the woman exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment (prohibited under Article 3 in the HRA and ECHR).

Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd

Famously known as the ‘Gay Cake case’, in October we saw the Supreme Court come down on the side of the Northern Irish bakery who refused to bake a cake with the message “Support Gay Marriage” on it. The court held that while refusing to provide a service to someone because they are gay (or because of any other protected characteristic) would indeed be unlawful discrimination-  no one can be compelled by law to make a statement (in icing or otherwise) which is contrary to their religious beliefs. The law here is protecting people- the bakers- over the idea (not the cake buyers themselves) of supporting gay marriage. This is a fascinating one, dealing with how you balance rights under the HRA, as both non-discrimination and belief are protected. It is a reminder that everyone is entitled to freedom of conscience and freedom of speech even if those ideas do not mirror one’s own beliefs of what’s right and wrong.

Darnley v Croydon Health Services NHS Trust

In Darnley v Croydon we saw the Supreme Court unanimously overturn the Court of Appeal’s verdict on responsibilities on NHS Trusts. Mr Darnley arrived at A&E with a brain injury, he was told by the receptionist that the wait time would be 4-5 hours. Mr Darnley then left to return to his mother’s and later collapsed leaving him suffering from permanent brain damage. The Court of Appeal had found this case fell outside the existing categories of liabilities for NHS Trusts and that it was not fair, just and reasonable to impose a duty not to provide inaccurate information about waiting times on the defendant. The Supreme Court however ruled that the receptionist owed a duty of care which was breached by the incorrect advice. Had Mr Darnley been told correctly that the wait time was 30 minutes, it could be assumed that he would have waited and therefore not collapsed miles from the hospital. We all know that that hospital A&E departments operate under great stress 24 hours a day, however, this ruling reminds us that NHS Trusts can be held to account if an individual’s rights are not upheld.

These, and other cases give clarification on what the law says about people’s basic rights including who is accountable and how the rights of different people can be balanced. The law is often the last resort for the people involved but we must reach a point where it becomes the starting point for wider change. If human rights law was truly the foundation for all policy and practice well firstly, I might be drinking tea instead of writing this blog but more importantly, our interactions with public authorities would be characterised by dignity, respect and non-discrimination, making human rights real before the courtroom.