16 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 freedom of assembly & association was set down in Article 20 UDHR, and is now protected in UK law through Article 11 of the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act protects your right to peacefully protest, go to demonstrations, and join political parties, trade unions and/or voluntary groups. It also means that nobody can force you to join a protest, trade union, political party or other association.

This right is not absolute, which means that public authorities can sometimes limit the right to freedom of assembly and association - as long as the limitation is: 

  • lawful
  • for a legitimate aim, e.g. for national security or public safety, to protect the rights of others, prevent disorder and crime, protect health and morals
  • necessary and proportionate (i.e. the least restrictive option) 

In real life: protecting the right to peacefully protest

120 protesters were going by coach to demonstrate against the Iraq war at the Royal Air Base in Gloucestershire. Police, who knew that the group was travelling to the protest, stopped the coaches about three miles from the Air Base. The police searched the coaches and seized some items, including helmets, scissors and a safety flame belonging to a couple of the protesters. The police decided that there was no proper basis to arrest anyone, but that they would turn the coaches back and stop the group from attending the protest. Everyone got back on the coaches - thinking they would continue their journey to the protest - but were forced to return to London. The coaches were escorted the entire journey by police, and weren't allowed to stop (including for bathroom breaks). 

The protesters took a human rights case to court, arguing that the police had breached their right to freedom of assembly and association (as well as freedom of expression). The Court agreed, and ruled that the police had breached the protesters rights. There had been no imminent threat to breach of the peace, so the police's decision to limit the protesters' right to freedom of assembly and association was not lawful. The Court also said that this restriction of the protesters' rights was also indiscriminate and disproportionate, because the police didn't have any reason to view the protesters as anything other than peaceful demonstrators. 

(Laporte v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, 2006)

In real life: protecting the right to belong to political parties

Arthur was a bus driver in Bradford. He worked for Serco Ltd, who provided services for Bradford City Council. Whilst he was working for Serco, Arthur was elected as a Councillor for the British Nationalist Party (BNP). After six months employment, Arthur was dismissed from work - the reasons were about his membership of the BNP, including the health and safety of his colleagues and passengers and risk the reputation of his employer. 

Arthur thought that his dismissal was unfair - he thought he had been discriminated against on the grounds of race. Through employment law, he challenged the decision at a tribunal (where he lost) and then in the courts. The Court of Appeal looked into the case, and recognised that this was about discrimination not on racial but on political grounds. 

Arthur's case went to the European Court of Human Rights, who decided that Arthur's right to freedom of association had been violated by the UK, because the rules on unfair dismissal were not compatible with his rights. Under those rules, Arthur couldn't claim unfair dismissal because he had not been working for Serco for more than a year when he was dismissed. Whilst the length of service requirement was waived in discrimination and other cases, it wasn't for Arthur, or for anyone dismissed on political grounds more generally. The Court said that the rules in the UK should be compatible with human rights, so they should create further exceptions so that people like Arthur could bring claims for unfair dismissal on the grounds of political opinion or affiliation, even if they had worked for their employer for less than one year. 

(Redfearn v UK, 2012)

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, especially our #rightschat taking place on Twitter on Friday 16 March between 12-1.30pm.

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