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 mild learning difficulties, had a baby together. The baby was born by emergency caesarean section and was placed in the Special Care Baby Unit for a brief time. After a week in hospital, Aneta and the baby were ready to be discharged home.

During their hospital stay, the maternity ward raised concerns with the Local Authority about Aneta and Bobbie’s long term parenting capacity. On the day they were due to be discharged from hospital, a social worker from the Local Authority visited Aneta while Bobbie wasn’t there. The social worker then applied to a Family Court for permission to remove the baby from their care and place them with Bobbie’s parents. The order was granted and the child was removed, before eventually being returned to Aneta and Bobbie’s care two months later.

A couple of months after the baby was returned to their care, Aneta and Bobbie took a human rights case to court saying their right to a fair trial and right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence (Article 8) had been breached. They said their rights had not been respected because they were not present at the hearing, nor did they have any legal representation. The Local Authority had also told the Court that Aneta and Bobbie agreed with the plan to remove the baby from their care, but Aneta said she was not told about the plan, and Bobbie was not present when the social worker visited Aneta and the baby in hospital. The courts agreed with Aneta and Bobbie and ordered the Local Authority to pay them damages.

(CZ & Kirklees Council, 2017)