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Where do my rights apply?

Health, Care & Social Work

Human rights apply to all our interactions with public services and everyone working in public bodies, such as healthcare workers and social workers, has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.

They must apply other laws, such as the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act, in a way that is compatible with human rights wherever possible.

This means that when they are trying to work out how a law applies to a certain situation, they must not assume the law would allow them to breach someone’s human rights unless there is no other possible explanation.

This means that as far as possible, staff should try and include you in decisions about your care and treatment. It also means that they should help you access advocacy services if you want to. It is important to remember that staff also have to balance non-absolute rights (such as the right to private life) with other considerations like other people’s rights and resources.

Get our resources for people accessing health and care services.

Key information

Who is this for:
Individuals and communities

Last updated
22nd November 2022

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Real life stories

The right to life may be at risk when a person does not receive life-saving treatment or is not protected from a risk to their life.

Adrian Jennings died at age 32, two weeks after his discharge from an inpatient mental health unit . His mother, Angela, relied on Article 2 to secure an inquest that found his death had been contributed to by a failure to implement and communicate an effective support plan for Adrian after he was discharged. Improvements were made to prevent future deaths and Angela said, “we’re now helping lots of people and preventing unnecessary deaths and thankfully, we were able to do that because of applying Article 2.”

The right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment may be at risk when a care package is put in place that does not respect a person’s dignity.

Balbir lived in a small council house with two teenage sons. She had a stroke that left her with severe physical disabilities and was no longer able to use the stairs to reach her bathroom, which was upstairs. The local authority refused to build a bathroom downstairs and told her to strip-wash in the kitchen and use a commode in her living room. Balbir found this humiliating – especially as this is where the family spent time together. Tim, Balbir’s advocate, told the local authority that they were putting Balbir’s Article 3 rights at risk and they carried out an assessment of her needs which resulted in a downstairs bathroom being built.

The right to liberty might be at risk if someone is prevented from moving around freely without good reason.

Jenny was an informal patient in a hospital (meaning she wasn’t detained under the Mental Health Act). Staff told her she could not go off the ward to visit the shops or go for coffee because they were worried about her safety. Jenny’s advocate told staff this might be a breach of Jenny’s right to liberty, and they agreed that a Jenny could go off the ward with a staff member.

The right to private and family life may be at risk when staff use extreme and unnecessary methods of keeping someone safe when there is a better option available.

Joseph has learning disabilities and spends several days each week at a learning centre. Sometimes he tries to harm himself by pulling out his hair or biting his own hands. Staff in the day centre started using splints to keep his arms straight and prevent him from harming himself. These were used often and for long periods of time. Staff then attended training with BIHR and realised that while splints may have been necessary in rare and limited circumstances to prevent serious harm, using them frequently was not proportionate and put Joseph’s Article 8 rights at risk. They came up with alternative ways to keep Joseph safe.

The right to be free from discrimination may be at risk when health and social care providers don’t take into account someone’s individual circumstances.

M's daughter was disabled and being charged a high rate for council care. This was effecting her quality of life and she was not able to work to earn extra money. The court found that this high charge discriminated against M’s daughter as a severely disabled person and interfered with her Article 8 right to private life and her Article 1, Protocol 1 right to possessions (which includes benefits). M said, “had we not been able to use the Human Rights Act, then severely disabled people would still be in this dire state.”

The right to peaceful enjoyment of possessions may be at risk when people are not allowed access to their possessions on inpatient wards or when benefits or housing are unfairly restricted.

Peter, Debbie’s son, was a 17-year-old inpatient with sensory needs. Debbie went to a lot of effort to find Peter clothes that he would like and that meet his needs, but when she came to visit Peter he was wearing clothes she did not recognise and she could not find his clothes in his belongings. The staff said his clothes were lost so they gave him ones from the lost property box. Debbie explained that they had a duty to protect Peter’s right to possessions and to take due care with his property.

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