Taking legal action

Going to court can take time, can be stressful and can be expensive. However, the courts and tribunal systems are there for all to use and thousands of people use them on their own every year. Also, of course, depending on your income and capital, you might be able to get a lawyer on legal aid. Sometimes taking a claim to court is the only way forward. Bringing a claim under the Human Rights Act is best done with specialist legal help and advice. 

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is unfortunately unable to provide legal assistance to you if you have a case relating to human rights which does not also raise issues under one of the areas of equality covered by our remit (sex, race, disability, age, religion and belief, and sexual orientation).

However, you should contact our helpline for free advice and assistance with your case in the first instance. There are also other organisations who can offer you help with your problem.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) offers free, confidential and impartial advice on all employment rights issues. You can call the Acas helpline on 08457 47 47 47 from 8.00 am to 6.00 pm Monday to Friday.

Your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) can also give you free and impartial advice. You can find your local CAB office in the phone book or online.

If you are a member of a trade union, you can get help, advice and support from them. The government website Directgov can give you more information about trade unions

Going to court

You can only take a case to court under the Human Rights Act itself if you are claiming that a public authority, such as the council, the police or the NHS, has violated one or more of your human rights. Sometimes though you may also be able to use the Human Rights Act to defend yourself when others are bringing legal action against you (for instance in the criminal courts).  Bringing a case under the Human Rights Act can be complicated, and you will need specialist legal advice firstly to help you decide whether or not your case is likely to succeed, and then to guide you through the process. 

Proceedings under the Human Rights Act can only be brought by the person whose human rights have been breached by the public authority (referred to as the ‘victim’). Interest groups and charities cannot take legal action themselves unless they meet this ‘victim test’. But they can help you if you are bringing a claim.

If you want to take a case to court, you generally have to bring proceedings within a year of the breach of your human rights (though in some actions you only have three months to take cases). The court can allow you to bring proceedings after a longer period if it thinks this is fair in all the circumstances (but this is rare).

Costs of legal action

If you receive benefits or are on a low income, you may be entitled to legal aid to help with the costs. You can find out more about legal aid, and whether you qualify, from the Legal Services Commission website or you can call their helpline on 0845 345 4345.

You may also be able to get help with legal representation and costs from a voluntary organisation interested in the outcome of your case.

Last Updated: 09 Apr 2014