Taking legal action to protect your human rights

Advice and Guidance

Who is this page for?

  • Employees

Which countries is it relevant to?

    • England

      England

    • |
    • Scotland

      Scotland

    • |
    • Wales

      Wales

You can take a case to court under the Human Rights Act if you are claiming that a public authority, such as a local authority, the police or the NHS, has violated one or more of your human rights. You may also be able to make a claim against other bodies carrying out public functions. Find out more about who the Act applies to.

Taking court action can be a long and stressful process. It can also be expensive. But sometimes it is the only way forward. Remember – the courts and tribunal systems are there for all to use and thousands of people use them successfully on their own every year.

Is legal action the best way forward? You should consider other options first – see how you can protect your human rights without going to court.  Bear in mind, however, that there are strict time limits for taking legal action (see below). Whatever you do, it’s best to act as early as possible.

If you’re considering court action, you should get advice from an experienced adviser. The cost is a worry for many people, but if you get benefits or are on a low income, you might be able to get a lawyer on legal aid.

Find out where you can get help and advice on legal aid in England and Wales and Scotland.

The Human Rights Act states that only the ‘victim’ of a human rights breach can take legal action under the Act. You could be the victim as an individual, group of people, company or other organisation. Interest groups and charities cannot take legal action themselves unless they meet the ‘victim test’. But they can help you if you are bringing a claim.

If you face legal action from someone else, you may be able to use the Human Rights Act to defend yourself (for example in the criminal courts). 

The way that a court enforces your right (known as a ‘remedy’) depends on the type of court action you’re taking.

The most common remedies include:

  • financial compensation or damages,
  • a declaration that your rights have been breached,
  • an order overturning the decision you have complained about – in England and Wales this is called a quashing order and in Scotland reduction, and
  • an order that the public authority should do something – in England and Wales this is called a mandatory order and in Scotland specific performance.

A court will not automatically order financial compensation even if it decides your human rights have been breached. This depends on whether you’ve suffered a loss that the court thinks you should be compensated for. The value of compensation in human rights cases is usually relatively low.

You usually have to bring proceedings within a year of the potential breach of your human rights. But there may be stricter time limits depending on the type of court action you take, and this can be as short as three months (or even less in some cases). The court can allow you to bring proceedings after a longer period if it thinks this is fair, but this is rare.

Last updated: 04 May 2016

Further Information

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service

Freephone 0808 800 0082

Textphone 0808 800 0084

Or write to them at

FREEPOST
EASS HELPLINE
FPN6521

Alternatively, you can visit our advice and guidance page.