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.
Sometimes a problem can be sorted out by speaking with the person or organisation involved, with the aim of resolving it without having to follow a formal process. An advocate may be able to help you if you would like support in doing this. You can get more information about finding an advocate in Useful contacts.
All public authorities have formal complaints procedures. For example, the NHS and local authority social services have complaints procedures, which allow a person to go to the Ombudsman if the complaint cannot be resolved. You can find out more from our information on complaining about health and social care.
You can take a case to a court or tribunal, or you could rely on your human rights in other legal proceedings involving a public authority that you are already involved in. For example, if the local authority takes possession proceeding to evict you from your home, you can raise a breach of your rights under Article 8: Respect for your private and family life and Article 14: Prohibition of discrimination in your defence.
To bring a claim, firstly you need to show you are a ‘victim’. This is a legal term, which means you must show your human rights have been directly affected by:
You cannot make a claim that someone else's human rights have been affected.
If you want to take legal action, you should:
If you have gone to court to challenge a particular law that has breached your human rights, and the court agrees with you, it can do a number of things depending on the facts of the case. It can:
Sometimes a court can find that the law itself does not comply with the Human Rights Act. If that is the case, the court can make a declaration of incompatibility. The government then looks at the law and decides whether it needs to be changed.
Andre was on welfare benefits under the old system. He received Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP) because of his serious mental health problems. He had to move house to another local authority which meant that he had to make a new claim for Universal Credit. Under Universal Credit he was no longer entitled to SDP and EDP and lost around £180 a month.
The court made a declaration that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had discriminated against Andre contrary to Article 14 in association with Article 1 Protocol 1. The DWP then compensated him for the lost benefits.
In 2001, a court decided that the Mental Health Act 1983 did not follow the Human Rights Act. Under that law, it was up to a patient to show that they no longer needed to be detained because of their mental health problem. This meant that it was up to the patient to prove that they could leave the hospital, otherwise they had to stay.
After the court’s decision, the government changed the law so that it was up to hospitals to prove that a patient should stay in detention. This means that now, you are free to leave the hospital unless the hospital can show that you need to stay.
If the court has found that a public authority has made a decision that doesn’t follow the Human Rights Act, the court can:
In most situations, if a decision is found to be unlawful, the court will send the issue back to the public authority to make the decision again. They can also award you money, though this depends on the facts of the case.
These are organisations whose role is of a public nature. This includes:
This means an act or activity taken by a public authority which is not a service. A public authority carries out a public function when it performs its particular legal duties and powers. Examples of public functions are licensing, planning and enforcement of parking.
Public authorities can get private companies or voluntary organisations to carry out their public functions. So for example, a private company that run prisons and takes prisoners into custody would be considered a private company carrying out a public function.See our full list of legal terms.
‘Bringing a claim’ means going to court to try to put right a breach of your legal rights, for example your human rights. You can also bring a claim in other areas of law.See our full list of legal terms.
This information was published in January 2020. We will revise it in 2022.
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