So you think the Human Rights Act is for criminals, terrorists and cats? Think again.
It protects you, in fact, it protects all of us. It’s been used to bring families back together, give justice to domestic abuse survivors, and return dignity to disabled people whose rights have been violated.
Here are just a handful of the thousands of ordinary British people who have used the Act to challenge injustice – and won.
1. Securing justice for rape survivors
When two women who had been sexually assaulted by a London cab driver reported the crime, they were not initially believed by the police.
Over the next ten years, the rapist went on to attack 103 others – crimes which one of the women then blamed herself for. The other woman’s treatment by the police left her suffering from depression and anxiety, on top of an already harrowing experience.
Using the Human Rights Act, both women took legal action against the Metropolitan police for violating their rights in failing to investigate their cases properly.
The Judge agreed with them. And for the first time, a police force, rather than individual officer, was held to account for failing in its duty to protect the public.
Source: Equally Ours
2. Keeping families together
A woman needed to find a safe home for herself and her children after leaving an abusive husband. He had continued to track them down after they left, forcing them to move again and again.
When she arrived in London, the local social services department told her she was an unfit parent because she was making the family intentionally homeless by moving without justification and her children would be taken into foster care.
With help from an advice worker, she argued that the department was violating her rights under the Human Rights Act. She cited her and her children’s right to a family life, and the children’s right to an education.
At that point, the department decided not to remove the children and the family were able to stay together.
3. Holding the government to account
The families of soldiers who died in Iraq while in inadequate vehicles were given permission by the UK Supreme Court to bring an action seeking justice from the government, based on Article 2 – the right to life.
The Court found that the Ministry of Defence could be held accountable if they were found to have failed properly to equip soldiers sent to war.
One of the soldiers killed was 21-year-old Private Phillip Hewett from Tamworth. Phillip’s mum, Susan Smith, told the Daily Mail that she wants the case to help protect other people in the future.
‘Philip is dead. Nothing is going to bring him back. But this might save other boys’ lives in the future.’
The Hillsborough disaster of 1989, when 96 football fans lost their lives during the semi-final of the FA cup between Liverpool and Nottingham, will never be forgotten. The two-year inquiry into the catastrophe was the longest in English history. Through Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, which enables bereaved families to seek compensation and closure for the loss suffered as a result of a failure on by the state, they were able to obtain a new inquiry.
In April 2016, the inquest ruled that the 96 fans were killed unlawfully. After 27 years fighting for justice, this victory was down to the absolute perseverance of the relatives of the victims in their campaign for truth.
4. Investigating modern slavery
Patience was brought to the UK to work as a domestic helper and nanny. But when she arrived, she spent almost three years being treated like a slave: a prisoner and subjected to physical and mental abuse by her employer.
Patience managed to escape with the help of her neighbour and went to report her abuse. But the police were more concerned with her immigration status than her complaints of mistreatment, treating her more like a criminal than a victim.
Patience took legal action against the police, arguing their refusal to investigate her claims failed to protect her human right to not be subjected to slavery or forced labour, which they then accepted.
The employer was finally prosecuted but the punishment was minimal since forced labour was not yet a crime in Britain. However Patience’s case paved the way for modern day slavery to be outlawed and it became a criminal offence shortly after her trial was heard.
5. Protecting people’s privacy
Jenny Paton and her husband Tim were appalled when they discovered the council had been spying on their family after an anonymous caller accused them of lying about where they lived so that their daughters could go to the same school.
The council put the family under secret surveillance for almost two weeks using the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which was designed to track those suspected of criminal activity.
The couple successfully used human rights laws to argue that the council had breached their right to privacy – the tribunal agreed, saying the surveillance was unlawful
6. Keeping older couples together
A husband and wife had lived together for over 65 years. He was unable to walk unaided and relied on his wife to help him move around. She was blind and used her husband as her eyes.
When he fell ill, he was moved into a residential care home and the couple were separated. She asked to come with him but was told by the local authority that she did not fit the criteria.
‘We have never been separated in all our years and for it to happen now, when we need each other so much, is so upsetting. I am lost without him – we were a partnership.’
The couple speaking to the media
The couple’s family launched a public campaign, arguing that the local authority had breached the couple’s right to respect for family life. Eventually, the authority agreed to reverse its decision and offered the wife a place in the home so that she could join her husband.
Human rights give people the power to challenge poor care, and they apply to all of us, whatever our age.
7. Empowering people with disabilities
Jan suffers from MS and relies on some support at home to help her live her life with dignity. However her council was providing such a low-level of care that she was confined to her bed all day. ‘It was degrading and it was inhumane’, said Jan.
Once Jan looked at the Human Rights Act, she realised that this treatment wasn’t acceptable but it was within her power to change that. She used the Act to make her local authority think again and increase her support so that she could start living her life again.
‘I want society to actually realise that I am valuable and if I’m treated as human, if I can get enough support, I can contribute. We need to stand up and make that happen.’