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. Applies to England and Wales.

Make a complaint

What can I do if my human rights haven’t been respected?

If you think that a public authority or a body exercising public functions has not respected your human rights in one of the ways listed in the Human Rights Act, there are several things you can do.

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: see 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 another legal proceedings involving a public authority that you are already involved in, for example, judicially review their decision. For example, see our information on complaining about health and social care.

How do I take legal action?

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).

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 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.

What happens if my human rights claim is successful?

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 make a declaration of incompatibility. This means that the law has not obeyed the Human Rights Act 1998. The government then looks at the law and decides whether it needs to be changed.

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.


This information was published in August 2017. We will revise it in 2019.

Mental Health A-Z

Information and advice on a huge range of mental health topics

> Read our A-Z


Helping you to better understand and support people with mental health problems

> Find out more

Special offers

Check out our promotional offers on print and digital booklets, for a limited time only

> Visit our shop today