Old Bailey, Courts of Justice
Justice at the Old Bailey. Credit: Ben Sutherland, Flickr https://flic.kr/ps/Vbm6y


Human rights are the fundamental rights and freedom that belong to all of us.

This year is the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, part of the UK’s strong tradition of fighting for rights. Since then, the trend has thankfully been for more and better legal protection for human rights across the world as well as in this country.

1948 was a turning point in that history.

After the horrific events of World War II, it was of the utmost importance to ensure such atrocities never happen again.

Representatives from the 48 countries of the United Nations, which included the UK, came together under Eleanor Roosevelt to devise a list of the rights that everybody across the world should enjoy.

This became the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a list of rights and freedoms that belong to every single one of us.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article one: We are all born free. We all have our own thoughts and ideas and we should all be treated the same way.

The 29 articles that follow include the right to freedom from torture, the right to free speech, the right to education, and many more.

No one can take these rights and freedoms away from us – they belong to everybody.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is now more than 60 years old, but it remains central to our work. It forms the basis for all international human rights law and is the bedrock of all our campaigning so we can hold authorities to account when rights are abused.

The European Convention of Human Rights

A few years later, the rights listed in the UDHR were used to form the basis of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Drafted by the Council of Europe, led by a British MP and lawyer this is an international treaty to protect human rights in Europe.

This Convention established the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. It meant that for the first time ordinary people who felt their rights had been denied or violated had a legal framework through which to have their case heard.

Until 1998, this lengthy and expensive process was the only route for UK citizens to challenge abuses of these rights.

The Human Rights Act

In 1998, the Human Rights Act was passed – a specific UK law protecting rights, bringing them home.

It means that the government has to explain how new laws are human rights compatible, and courts must try to interpret old ones that way too. Also, public authorities – including the government, state schools, hospitals and social services – are legally obliged to treat everyone in the UK in a way that does not violate their rights.

It also means that every single day, you’re able to exercise your human rights without even noticing. You can do that because the state is legally bound to respect them.

Of course, our rights are not always respected. But the Human Rights Act allows us to defend them in UK courts.

Any attack on the Human Rights Act poses a real threat to the freedoms we enjoy in this country. We believe that it must be defended.

Add your voice – protect the Human Rights Act