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Human Rights FAQ

Anyone may bring a claim for a breach to the Human Rights Act directly in the
UK Court if they are a “victim” or a “potential victim”.

The “victim” as defined by the Human Rights Act is:

(1) Any individual who has been affected or is at risk of being directly affected
by something done by a public authority.

(2) Any relative of a victim, if the complaint is about the death of the victim.

(3) Any organisation, interest group or trade union if it is itself a victim.

The Human Rights Act 1998 provides that claims can only be brought against a “public
authority” and not against another individual. In general terms, public authorities
are bodies serving a public function or governmental purpose, for example Local
Authorities, Police forces, prisons or NHS staff.

Private organisations can also be classed as public authorities when they perform
duties of a public nature, for example a private security company contracted to
transport prisoners on behalf of the Prison Service.

If you are unsure whether the person or organisation whom you allege has breached
your human rights is a “public authority”, you should always seek legal advice.

Any claim alleging a breach of the Human Rights Act can be commenced in any UK
County Court or, if the claim involves a personal injury and is valued at more
than £50,000, in the High Court. Due to the complexity of the legal arguments
and the seriousness of the case, many cases, which might otherwise be commenced
in the County Court might be transferred to the High Court.

Court proceedings begin in the same way as any standard claim for compensation
by using a standard Claim Form (N1) and the standard Court fees will apply, as
they would for standard cases.

In any Human Rights claim, the Court must also be given full details of which
part of the Human Rights Act you believe has been breached and details of how
you allege there has been a breach.

Further, you are required to tell the Court in your Claim Form what remedy you
would like the Court to make, for example, a change in procedure or a claim for
compensation.

Special details about making a claim under the Human Rights Act and what information
is required in your Claim Form are set out in the Court’s Practice Direction,
supplementing Part 16 of the Civil Procedure Rules.

Court staff will be able to provide you with a copy of the Practice Direction.
You should always seek legal advice.

The Court Rules require anyone bringing a claim to confirm in the Claim Form that
the claim includes an action under the Human Rights Act. The Court Service monitor
the number of Human Rights Act claims being made.

There are two types of claim under the Human Rights Act:

(1) A claim for compensation or money owed, based upon a breach of one or more of
the rights protected under the Act.

(2) A non-money claim, for example an application for Judicial Review of a decision
or action of a public authority or an application for an Injunction. (Judicial Review
applications have a different procedure and can only be brought in the Administrative
Court Office of the Royal Courts of Justice on a separate Judicial Review Claim Form.)

Court proceedings under the Human Rights Act, where it is alleged that a breach
of the Act has taken place on or after 2 October 2000 (the date when the Act came
into force) must be brought at Court within one year of the date when the breach
of the Act took place. The time limit is strict. A separate time limit of only
three months applies in cases where you are asking the Court for a Judicial Review
of a public authority decision.

In any case, where it is alleged that your Human Rights were breached before 2
October 2000 (before the Act came into force), you must consider making a claim
to the European Court of Human Rights rather than in a UK Court.

The Judge hearing the case will need to hear evidence that there has been a breach
of the Human Rights Act. If the Judge finds that a public authority has already
acted or proposes to act in a way that is not compatible with the Human Rights
Act, the Judge may grant whatever remedy he/she considers to be just and appropriate
and which might be within his/her power. It might include an award of compensation,
a Declaration or an Injunction.

The amount of compensation awarded for breach of Human Rights Act is likely to
be equivalent of what the European Court of Human Rights would have awarded in
the same case. The level of compensation awarded by the European Court of Human
Rights is generally quite modest. Compensation is not an automatic right and the
Judge might consider that a Declaration that a human right has been breached might
be sufficient.

Whilst the procedures for bringing a Human Rights claim in the UK Courts are very
similar to standard claims for compensation involving a personal injury, Human
Rights law is complex and the time limits for bringing a claim are much shorter
than a standard compensation claim.

For information about Child Abuse and the Human Rights Act 1998, see the article
entitled “Child Abuse and the Human Rights Act 1998” in the articles section of
this site by clicking here.

A brief description of the main rights contained in the Human Rights Act 1998
are set out below. In each case, legal advice is strongly recommended.

Article 2: The Right to Life

Public authorities such as a local council, police, a prison or an NHS hospital
must not cause the death of any person. Public authorities have a positive obligation
to protect life in some situations.

Article 3: The Right to Freedom from Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment
or Punishment

Torture is the most serious kind of ill-treatment. Inhuman or degrading treatment
is less severe than torture but may include physical assault or corporal punishment.
The ill-treatment may be both mental and physical. Whether ill-treatment qualifies
as torture or inhuman treatment would depend upon the facts of the case including
the duration of the treatment, how severe the treatment was and the vulnerability
of the victim.

Article 4: The Right to Freedom from Slavery, Servitude and Forced or Compulsory
Labour

Slavery is defined by the Home Office as meaning that ‘a person is owned by
someone else, just as if they were a piece of property’. Dominant Servitude
is not actually owned by another person but they may have to live on that person’s
property and be unable to leave.

Article 5: The Right to Liberty and Security of a Person

Anyone has the right not to be arrested or detained, except where the detention
is authorised by law. Article 5 does not only apply to police arrests but covers
all aspects of detention including for medical or psychiatric reasons. Certain
circumstances on which the Act considers it is acceptable for someone to be
detained including after a conviction by a criminal court or where there is
reasonable suspicion that someone has committed a crime.

Article 6: The Right to a Fair and Public Trial within Reasonable Time

Anyone charged with a criminal offence has rights including the right to be
presumed innocent until proven guilty and to be given adequate time and facilities
to prepare their defence. The emphasis on a public trial protects litigants
against the administration of justice in secret with no public scrutiny.

Article 7: The Right to Freedom from Retrospective Criminal Law and No Punishment
without Law

Any person may not be convicted of an act which was not a criminal offence at
the time it was committed. Nor can they face a penalty which was not in place
when the act in question happened. This section of the Act requires that a law
imposing a criminal offence penalty be clear enough so that a person can reasonably
be able to foresee the legal consequences.

Article 8: The Right to Respect the Private and Family Life, Home and Correspondence

This is a very broad section of the Act and has wide-ranging implications. Public
authorities may only be allowed to interfere with someone’s private life where
they have a legal authority to do so, where the interference is necessary in
a democratic society for one of the aims stated in the Article and is proportionate
to that aim. The Article also covers situations including monitoring of employees’
telephone calls and mail, carrying out body searches, disclosing private information
and restrictions on entering a person’s home. It also includes issues such as
the right for families to live together.

Article 9: The Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion

Everyone has the right to hold whatever thoughts, positions of conscience or
religious beliefs that they wish. This section of the Act guarantees that right
for everyone.

Article 11: The Right to Freedom of Assembly and Association

This includes the right of people to demonstrate peacefully and the right to
join or choose not to join trade unions.

Article 12: The Right to Marry and Find a Family

This Article may have relevance to rules and policy concerning adoption and
fostering.

Article 14: The Prohibition of Discrimination in the Enjoyment of Convention
Rights

Protocol 1, Article 1: The Right to Peaceful Enjoyment of Possessions and
Protection of Property

This gives the right to everyone to have the uninterrupted right to enjoy possessions
and property such as houses, cars, licences and ‘goodwill’. The right to engage
in a profession can also in some cases be a property right. No-one can be deprived
of their property except where the action is permitted by law and justifiable
in the public or general interest.

Protocol 2, Article 2: The Right of Access to Education

The right of access to education must be balanced against the resources available.
This may, for example, be relevant to the punishments used by school, such as
the expulsion of disruptive pupils and may also be relevant to children with
special educational needs.

Further information

Further information in relation to Human Rights may be found on the following
web sites:

  1. The UK Court Service – www.courtservice.gov.uk
  2. The Home Office .Gov Website
  3. The European Court of Human Rights www.echr.coe.int
  4. The Council of Europe, Human Rights Directorate http://www.coe.int/t/dgi/welcome_en.asp

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