Human Rights & the UK Human Rights Act

Authors: Kate Cameron, Mel Cadman, Glasgow School Of Social Work

Society has become more rights conscious in recent years.

People are more likely than they were in the past to demand minimal standards that they deserve as citizens of the state.

People talk in terms of rights, freedoms and personal liberties.

They are more likely to demand certain standards from the government as a matter of right, for example the right to a certain standard of health care or the right to access to justice.

Although the term 'human rights' is relatively new, the concept is not. Philosophers, theologians and social theorists have been discussing these ideas for centuries.

Early notions of human rights were based on a recognition of basic needs. So, a basic right to food, for example, became translated into a basic right to have the means to satisfy that need.

This idea of a basic right became known as a natural right. Natural rights are those rights which grow out of the nature of mankind: they are rights that people have by virtue of being human.

A whole school of legal thought called the Natural Law School has grown out of this theory and its influence can be seen in the American Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".

From: The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies, July 4, 1776.

The events in America inspired the French National Assembly who in 1789 - six weeks after the storming of the Bastille, and three weeks after the abolition of feudalism - adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Interestingly, their declaration included the right to liberty, property and resistance to oppression.

"The representatives of the French people, contituted into a "national Assembly," considering that ignorance, forgetting or contempt of the rights of man are the sole causes of public misfortunes and of the corruption of governments, are resolved to expose, in a solemn declaration, the natural, inalienable and sacred rights of man..."

From: Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, August 26, 1789.

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Human Rights & Civil Liberties Distinguished - transcript

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).

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Historical Context of the Human Rights Act 1998 - transcript

Not until the aftermath of the World War and its atrocities did issues concerning civil liberties and human rights once more gain worldwide attention. At that point, there was political resolve and popular support to have stronger monitoring and enforcement of minimum international standards of human rights.

The United Nations was formed in 1948 and one of its first acts was the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It established a fundamental set of standards for countries to follow.

However, the Declaration was limited in that individuals could not enforce these rights against governments.

At the same time as the UN Declaration was being written, there was a movement in Europe to identify and institute a charter of fundamental rights and freedoms.

The International Committee of the Movements for European Unity organised a congress in 1948 at which it resolved that a body representing different states be established with a remit to draft a charter of rights.

This charter - based on the UN Declaration - was adopted as the European Convention on Human Rights by the Council of Europe in 1950 and was ratified by the UK in 1951.

However, petition by individuals to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg was not allowed by the UK Government until 1966. The granting of the right of individual petition subsequently resulted in Britain becoming one of the countries with most cases before the court.

The increasing awareness of human rights in the UK, and the growth of a rights culture, may have been partly responsible for these large numbers.

However, the fact that the UK did not have a Bill or Charter of Rights embedded in its constitution may also have resulted in more cases being taken to Europe because of the absence of relevant legislation to redress wrongs in this country.

A movement grew through the 80s and 90s for the incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law and the labour party included a promise to do this in their manifesto prior to the 1997 General Election.

The outcome was a White Paper entitled Rights Brought Home - The Human Rights Bill and the passing of the Human Rights Act in 1998.

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.


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