Human Rights and the UK Human Rights Act

Authors: Kate Cameron and Mel Cadman

Human Rights and Civil Liberties Distinguished

Human Rights are those rights derived from natural law, regardless of local legal jurisdiction.

Human rights might include the right to life; freedom from torture; freedom from slavery; the right to move about freely; the right to food and shelter.

Essentially, they are the rights that any human being should have in order to survive in the world. On a more basic level, if someone is deprived of these rights, he or she may be deprived of the capacity to survive.

Civil liberties are those rights which are derived from the positive law, for example, legal statutes. They are rights which the state has contracted with its citizens and they are state made or state enforced rights - in other words, political rights.

Examples might be the right to free elections (based on the idea of democracy); the right to vote; the right to silence; the right to a fair hearing.

They are based on the western notion of democracy, but things are done differently in different democracies. For example the right of silence relied on by those accused of a crime is different in America and UK. So, in fact, civil liberties are contextual in that they reflect the society in which they are found.

However, the two are inextricably linked. For example, if you are denied a fair trial by an independent, impartial tribunal, you are denied your civil rights as guaranteed by the state. If you are denied freedom of movement, you are being denied your civil as well as your human rights.

Rights can also be categorised as : Civil and political rights (those promised under the law and the constitution) and social and welfare rights (reflected in rising expectations of human beings).