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.
Resolve it informally
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.
Use a complaints procedure
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.
Take legal action
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.
Show that you are a 'victim'
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:
- something that someone has done (an act), or
- something they haven't done (an omission).
You cannot make a claim that someone else's human rights have been affected.
Taking legal action
If you want to take legal action, you should:
- Seek advice. It is always important to get good legal advice about your situation before going to court. See Useful contacts for information on how to find legal help.
- Get advice as soon as possible. There are very strict deadlines for bringing a claim. It is very important that you get advice as soon as possible.
- See if you can get legal aid. In some cases, legal aid is available. This means that you can get help paying for your legal fees. To see whether you can get legal aid, you should speak to a specialist legal adviser, or you could also use this online legal aid check from the gov.uk website. See Useful contacts for information on how to find a specialist legal adviser.
- See if you can get support. Taking legal action can be complicated and stressful. If you want assistance and support, you could ask an advocate to help you. Read more about advocacy, and other ways you can get support and assistance, in Useful contacts.
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:
- award you compensation
- make a declaration that your rights have been breached
- overturn decisions made by a public authority
- order a public authority to do something, or not to do something
- make the public authority take a decision again.
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.
Real life example
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:
- cancel the decision, or
- prevent a public authority from acting in a certain way.
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:
- NHS hospitals and employees
- local authorities and their employees
- some nursing and personal care accommodation providers
- prison staff
- courts and tribunals, including Mental Health Tribunals
- government departments and their employees
- statutory bodies and their employees (for example the Information Commissioner’s Office).
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.Visit our full listing 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.Visit our full listing of Legal Terms
This information was published in January 2020. We will revise it in 2023.
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