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How are your rights protected?

Human rights in Britain are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998. Anyone who is in the UK for any reason is protected by this Act, regardless of citizenship or immigration status.

The Act did not create human rights for British people. The rights and freedoms it covers were set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty that has been in force since 1953. The Act makes it easier to protect these rights by applying them to our own domestic law. It also means you can take complaints about human rights breaches to a British court rather than having to go to Strasbourg in France.

What rights are protected?

There are 16 basic rights protected by the Human Rights Act. As you would expect, they concern issues such as life, liberty and freedom from slavery and inhuman treatment. But they also cover rights that apply to everyday life, like what we can say and do, our beliefs and the right to marry and raise a family. You can find more details on our Human Rights Act pages.

Who has to comply with the Human Rights Act?

The Act applies to:

  • all public authorities (such as central government departments, local authorities and NHS Trusts), and
  • all other bodies whether public or private, performing public functions such as delivering publicly funded care and operating prisons.

Public authorities must follow the Human Rights Act in everything they do. They must respect and protect your human rights when they make individual decisions about you. They must also follow the Human Rights Act when they plan services and make policies.

The duty to comply with the Act does not apply directly to private individuals or companies that are not carrying out public functions. But there are situations where a public authority has a duty to stop abuse of human rights by an individual or company. For example, a public authority aware of child abuse has a duty to protect the child from inhuman or degrading treatment.

The rights in the Act are legally enforceable. This means that if an individual thinks their rights have been breached, they can take the organisation concerned to court. See our How to exercise your human rights page for more information.

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 in any circumstances.

But most human rights are not absolute. Some are described as ‘limited’ which means they can be restricted in certain circumstances as specified in the relevant Article of the European Convention on Human Rights. For example, the right to liberty can be limited if a person is convicted and sentenced to prison.

Other rights are described as ‘qualified’. Which means they can only be restricted in order to protect the rights of other people or if it’s in the public interest for specific reasons such as the prevention of crime. For example, the Government may  restrict the right to freedom of expression if a person is encouraging racial hatred.

The Human Rights Act 1998 does not cover all of your human rights. Others are contained in the international human rights treaties which the United Kingdom has signed and ratified. Those treaty rights are binding on the UK in international law, which means that the UK has agreed to them and the Government must comply with them. However, the method for holding the Government to account for its compliance with treaty rights is different from the enforcement method for the Human Rights Act. To find out how these other human rights are protected, see our section on Monitoring and promoting UN treaties.

Last updated: 04 May 2016