The Human Rights Act 1998

The Human Rights Act 1998 came into force in England and Wales in October 2000. Its effect is to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law. This means that wherever possible rights that already exist in law have to be interpreted and applied in a way that fits with the Human Rights Act. All proposed new Acts of Parliament must state how they fit with the Human Rights Act and the reasons why if they don’t.

All public authorities like government departments, hospitals, schools and the police must respect the rights contained within the Human Rights Act. So too must private bodies if they are carrying out ‘functions of a public nature’ eg a private security firm running a prison. It applies to everyone in the UK, adults and children and means that everyone living in the UK can go to court to seek to protect their human rights. In addition, they can still seek protection through the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France (as long as they have done all they can to get a remedy in the UK first).

What rights are contained in the Human Rights Act?

The rights come directly from the ECHR – there are 13 substantive rights in the ECHR (articles 2 to 14), with three additional rights under the First Protocol. However, one of these rights – the right to an effective remedy under Article 13 – was not included in the Human Rights Act: the UK Government argued that it was unnecessary to do so because the Act itself was going to provide an effective remedy.

Article 2 – the right to life

Article 3 – protection from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

Article 4 – protection from slavery

Article 5 – right to liberty and security

Article 6 – the right to a fair trial, including the child's right to be informed promptly, in a language he or she understands, of the alleged offence and to have an interpreter in court if he or she cannot understand or speak the language used in court. Restrictions on reporting can be applied to protect the interests of children

Article 7 – no one can be punished for an act that was not a criminal offence when it was carried out

Article 8 – the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence

Article 9 – the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion

Article 10 – the right to freedom of expression

Article 11 – the right to freedom of assembly and association

Article 12 – right to marry

Article 13 – right to an effective remedy

These are all supported by Article 14 – all the rights in the ECHR apply to all people without discrimination.

Children can therefore use Article 14 to challenge decisions if they believe one of  their other rights have been denied or abused just because of their age.

Protocol No 1 (an additional treaty agreed to by all the states that are bound by the Convention itself) also includes the right not to be denied access to education.

The ECHR contains rights that are, for the most part, civil and political in nature, and, unlike the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is not a document designed exclusively for children and young people. However, that should not undermine its relevance for children and young people. There have been numerous cases considered both by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Court in Strasbourg that have dealt with children's rights. They have adopted a very robust approach to the interpretation of ECHR Articles in children's cases and the concept of the ECHR being a "living instrument" has meant that changing legal and social conditions are taken into account.