The Human Rights Act is the main way everyone’s rights are respected and protected here at home. Our FREE eBook Getting with the Act, will take you on a whistle stop tour of where our human rights came from, why we have them, how the Human Rights Act works and the difference it has made in everyday life. You can also click on the image above to watch Our Human Rights Act in 2 minutes.

Below we explore:

  • What are human rights?
  • Where do human rights come from?
  • What is our Human Rights Act?
  • How does our Human Rights Act work?
  • What difference does our Human Rights Act make?

What are human rights?

Human rights are not privileges to be earned or gifts that governments can give or take away at will. Our law in the UK, the Human Rights Act, recognises that some rights can be restricted, including to protect people and balance the rights of others. But human rights can never be taken away from you, they are part of what is means to be human.

Although human rights are based on shared values such as fairness, respect, equality and dignity, human rights are much more than values. Human rights set down in law the rule book for governments on how people should be treated and how power should be exercised. Human rights belong to everyone, not matter who they are or what they may or may not have done.

Where do human rights come from?

After the horrors of World War II it was recognised that whilst democracy is a partial check on power, it is not enough. The world community came together to say never again should a government decide who matters and who does not. This is why human rights are a set of minimum standards that protect everyone, no matter what. This is at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, which is the foundation for all human rights law, including the European Convention on Human Rights and our Human Rights Act. This is why any human rights law, including the Human Rights Act, protects everyone (in the UK) irrespective of factors like age, nationality, behaviour, gender, etc.

What is our Human Rights Act?

The Human Rights Act 1998 was passed with cross-party support by parliament; it does not belong to any one particular political party.

Our Human Rights Act takes 16 of the fundamental human rights in the European Convention on Human Rights and pulls them down into our law here at home. This covers rights such as the right to life, to liberty, to family life, freedom of expression and to not be subjected to slavery. The full list of human rights is at the end of this page.

How does our Human Rights Act work?

The Human Rights Act works in three main ways

All UK laws should be compatible with the human rights in the Human Rights Act

This means that whether passing new laws or applying old ones people’s human rights should be considered. In these ways the Human Rights Act respects our democratic processes and constitutional principles. It respects the constitutional principle of parliamentary sovereignty, which means if laws are incompatible with human rights, it is up to government and parliament to decide whether to re-look at the issue. UK courts do not have the power to invalidate Acts of Parliament (laws).

Public authorities have a legal duty act compatibly with our human rights in all they do

Put simply, this legal duty means such officials must respect, protect and fulfil people’s human rights in their work, including service delivery, policies, decision-making, etc. This duty covers central Government and the public authorities that people interact with every day, including state schools, NHS hospitals, local councils, police, care homes and other public services. This is important because it makes the difference for people’s everyday lives without having to go to court.

If a law or public official risks your human rights any person can now ask UK courts and tribunals to look at their situation

This means you can go to your local court and ask them to look at whether your human rights are at risk or have been violated. Making an application does not mean it will progress to a legal case, the courts will first decide if it is admissible. Before our Human Rights Act the UK courts could not decide such issues; people had try and access the European Court of Human Rights. (You can still access the European Court but only after you have tried the UK courts).

What difference does the Human Rights Act make?

Too often there is an assumption that the Human Rights Act is only about courts and certain legal cases. However, the duty on public authorities means that the Human Rights Act is making life better for people in their everyday lives, helping officials and services to do their job, supporting advocates to assist vulnerable people, and protecting us all. Plus there are a whole host of legal cases that we rarely hear about which have been a safety-net for children, older people, disabled people, LGBT people, journalists, victims of crime and many others.

Watch the video below to hear the stories of some of the people BIHR supports to bring human rights to life in health and social care. And then check out our case studies for lots of real life examples of the Human Rights Act assisting people with and without legal action.

Find out more