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Human Rights Act 1998

A general guide to the Human Rights Act, with information about your human rights and what you can do if someone doesn't respect them.

What are human rights?

Human rights are basic rights and freedoms which we all have. They cannot be taken away, although they can be restricted in certain circumstances.

What is the Human Rights Act 1998?

The Human Rights Act gives you legal protection of your human rights, such as your right to a fair trial. Each right is referred to as a separate article, for example, Article 2: Right to life.

These rights come from the European Convention on Human Rights. You can find out more about this on the Equality and Human Rights Commission website.

You are protected under the Human Rights Act if you live in the UK. This includes if you are a foreign national, detained in hospital or in prison.

The Human Rights Act is important because:

  • It sets out a minimum standard of how the government should treat you. It makes sure that they think about meeting your basic rights when they do their job. This includes when they use other laws.
  • Parliament must think about whether a new law follows the Human Rights Act before it comes into force.


Andrei is from South Africa but lives in London. He can use the Human Rights Act to protect his rights.

He cannot be locked up without reason. If he is sectioned, the hospital must make sure that:

  • the Mental Health Act is followed
  • he is given reasons why he has been detained and an opportunity to challenge it.

This is because of Article 5: Right to liberty and security.

Who needs to follow the Human Rights Act?

All public authorities or bodies exercising public functions, including:

  • police
  • NHS employees
  • local authorities and their employees
  • some nursing and personal care accommodation providers
  • prisons
  • courts and tribunals, including First Tier Tribunals (Mental Health)
  • government departments and their employees
  • statutory bodies and their employees (e.g. Information Commissioner's Office)

You can bring a claim against public authorities or public bodies exercising public functions if you think they have not respected your human rights.

Who doesn't need to follow the Human Rights Act?

  • Individual people
  • Private companies (such as employers)

If you feel that your employer has discriminated against you because of your mental health problem, see our information on discrimination at work.

Why is the Human Rights Act important for someone with a mental health problem?

If you are living with a mental health problem, it's important for you to know your rights under the Human Rights Act because:

  • the law should comply with human rights
  • you should be looked after and treated in a way which complies with human rights
  • mental health, emergency services and social services must comply with human rights – this includes police and ambulance staff as well as doctors and nurses and social workers.

For example, knowing your rights under the Human Rights Act can be important if you are detained, or kept in hospital, under the Mental Health Act.

This information was published in January 2020.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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