It is a year of anniversaries; in 2018 we are celebrating 70 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and today marks 20 years since the Human Rights Act passed into law, helping bring home our universal rights. These anniversaries offer us the perfect opportunity for reflection, celebration and renewed commitment to making human rights real here in the UK.

Twenty years ago the conversation about the Human Rights Act was somewhat different. It passed into law as a fairly uncontroversial piece of law. At the time political parties across the spectrum wished it well on its passage from Parliament. For example, the Conservatives noted:

“Although we have opposed aspects of the Bill, we now wish it well and hope that it will be implemented effectively, to the benefit of the citizenry as a whole.” Sir Nicholas Lyell, Shadow Attorney General, 1998

Sadly, the political climate over the last decade has been, at best quiet, and at worst outright hostile, to the Human Rights Act. Too often the law has become a political football kicked about for easy point-scoring, with promises to scrap the law, to review and replace it and to divorce the UK from internationally agreed standards. Thankfully these threats have been met with a strong response from civil society, and BIHR is proud to support groups across the UK to be a positive voice and force for standing up for the Human Rights. From the overwhelming support in responses to the Commission on a Bill of Rights, to the annual Human Rights Day action, our Human Rights Tour across the UK, there is certainly much support for the Human Rights Act out there.

Less heard, and certainly rarely featured in the national conversations are the quiet ways the Human Rights Act is working up and down the country to help people change their lives. You see the Act is a framework law, setting out rights and duties that should be used in everyday life. Court action only happens when the duty to respect and protect human rights is not met; there is so much that can be done to use that duty to leverage change in everyday life. And that’s what we do at BIHR, translate the law into a practical tool to ensure people are treated with dignity and respect. People like:

  • Bryn, a man in his 60s who was denied an essential heart scan by doctors because of his learning disabilities. Our support meant his advocate could challenge this as risking Bryn’s right to life and non-discrimination, and get the scan.

  • Debartri, a woman fleeing violence, with her children who was denied accommodation. Our support meant her social worker could challenge the housing decision as risking the family’s right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment. Debartri and her children were provided with safe housing.

  • Sarah, a disabled child who was denied support to get to school, which would have meant her having to take several buses along a complicated route. Our support meant her mother and head teacher could talk to the local authority about risking Sarah’s right to respect for private life and participation. Sarah got the support she needed to go to school.

At BIHR we have over 50 such examples. All our evidence shows that when people not only understand their rights but also have the confidence to use these every day outside the courts this truly transforms lives. At BIHR these are the stories of 20 years of the Human Rights, of families being brought back together, dignity being restored, restrictions of liberty removed and discrimination prevented.  It is the story of public officials who see the HRA as something positive and helpful, steering them to do the best for people. Today we need to shine a spotlight on those stories. You can find our real life stories here.

Whilst many of us will never need to rely on the Human Rights Act it is there working in the background, making sure power is exercised fairly and respectfully. So if like us, you think universal human rights for everyone is worth celebrating, you can sign our digital card which we will present in Parliament on Human Rights day this year. Share your sign up on social media using #HRAat20 and #Celebrating70

Sanchita can be found on twitter @sfhosali and @BIHRhumanrights