21 years ago, on 2nd October 2000 our Human Rights Act came into force (it had been passed by the UK Parliament in 1998). I’m sure if back in 2000, if you had told my much younger self that in 21 years’ time I would be writing a blog about the importance of this new law (or of any law really) she would not of believed you for a single second (… and probably went back to listening to Steps on my Discman).

But over the last few years working at BIHR I have come to understand more and more that our Human Rights Act is a very special type of law, a law that matters to all of us every day.

 

Why does our Human Rights Act matter?

Our Human Rights Act is there to ensure that every one of us living in the UK can expect a basic standard of treatment when we interact with the state, for example we go to the GP or if we report a crime to the police or when we go to the housing office of our local council. We can expect to be treated with dignity, treated with respect, treated fairly and be listened to.

And if that doesn’t happen, we can use our Human Rights Act to challenge this, ask for decisions to be looked at again or to hold people and services accountable when things have gone wrong so that the same thing doesn’t happen to other people in the future.  

Our Human Rights Act protects the things we all hold most dear: our beliefs, our relationships with our loved ones, our involvement in our communities and even our lives. Over the past few years, I have seen first-hand why our Human Rights Act matters, not just in the courtrooms but in our everyday life and how it can be used as a tool to create real and lasting change in people’s life.

When I think about why our Human Rights Act matters I think not only about the life changing court cases, but I think about the self-advocate who, during the pandemic lockdowns, used our Human Rights Act to challenge the policy of her supported living accommodation that meant she had to isolate in her bedroom for 14 days any time she went to the shops. This decision wasn’t based on the law (or even the guidance), but those in power assumed it was okay to essentially lock a person in their bedroom for days at a time. This wasn’t okay, and our Human Rights Act gave her the language and confidence to speak up.Even though complaints had been made before, when the Human Rights Act was mentioned these restrictions stopped immediately.

I think about Ian who is a carer for his wife and son, who uses our Human Rights Act often to advocate for his family and others. From local care and treatment reviews to challenging blanket polies on sanitary pads in a local mental health ward.  Because of the rights in our Act, and the legal duty on public services to uphold them, Ian can speak up confidently, knowing that he is simply asking for the basics that everyone should receive.

I think about the women at BOMOKO NI, the Northern Ireland Refugees and Asylum Seekers Women Association who after learning about our Human Rights Act felt more confident in raising human rights issues in their interactions with public services, particularly housing which women felt unsafe in.

 

Why our Human Rights Act Matters… to you

That’s only 3 of the tens of stories of why I think our Human Rights Act matters that I could share with you from over the past couple of years. But we know there are hundreds of stories and reasons out there as to why people, groups and organisations believe that our Human Rights Act matters.

Right now, it is more important than ever to be making clear to those in power that we believe our Human Rights Act Matters.

So that’s why in the run up to this year’s Human Rights Day (on 10 December) we are asking people, groups, and organisations all across the country to share with us “Why our Human Rights Act matters…”. 

How can you get involved?

  • You can read more about #WhyOurHumanRightsActMatters here
  • You can share a photo or short video explaining #WhyOurHumanRightsActMatters to you, your group or organisation. You can check out some of team BIHR’s examples here.
  • You can come to our free open access lunch and learns to find out more about #WhyOurHumanRightsActMatters. You can register here.
  • You can come along to our free workshop “#WhyOurHumanRightsActMatters: An intro to campaigning”. Register here.
  • Your group or organisation can sign our annual Human Rights Day letter here, which we will send to the UK Prime Minister and the First Ministers of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. If you would be interested in signing up to our letter you can register you interest here.