How do human rights work?

Where are your human rights set out?

The Human Rights Act 1998 sets out the rights in the UK which are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Act did not invent human rights for British people. Instead, it introduced into our domestic law some of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents.

More specifically, it gave greater effect within the UK to the rights and freedoms protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty which British lawyers helped to draft.

So the Act meant that these basic rights and freedoms are now more easily protected within the UK.

Who does the Human Rights Act apply to?

The Act applies to all public authorities (such as central government departments, local authorities and NHS Trusts) and other bodies performing public functions (such as private companies operating prisons). These organisations must comply with the Act – and your human rights – when providing you with a service or making decisions that have a decisive impact upon your rights.

Although the Act does not apply to private individuals or companies (except where they are performing public functions), sometimes a public authority has a duty to stop people or companies abusing your human rights. For example, a public authority that knows a child is being abused by its parents has a duty to protect the child from inhuman or degrading treatment.

Who is protected by the Human Rights Act?

The Human Rights act covers everyone in the United Kingdom, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. Anyone who is in the UK for any reason is protected by the provisions in the Human Rights Act.

The rights in the HRA are known as 'justicible', which means that if an individual thinks they have been breached, they can take a court case against the public sector body that has breached them. For more information on how rights work in practice, see Using your human rights.

Your rights under the Human Rights Act 1998 are not the only rights you have. To find out how the law protects other rights, see Your rights.

Can human rights ever be restricted?

Some human rights – like the right not to be tortured – are absolute. These ‘absolute’ rights can never be interfered with by the government in any circumstances.

However, most human rights are not absolute. Some of these rights can be limited in certain circumstances, as set out in the specified Article of the European Convention on Human Rights. For example, your right to liberty can be limited only in specified circumstances such as if you are convicted and sentenced to a prison term. Other rights can only be restricted when certain general conditions are met, for example where this is necessary to protect the rights of others or in the interests of the wider community. For example, the government may be able to restrict your right to freedom of expression if you are encouraging racial hatred.

Find out more

Last Updated: 04 Sep 2015