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What is the Human Rights Act 1998?


The Human Rights Act 1998 sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that everyone in the UK is entitled to. The Act is based on the Convention rights from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), bringing them into British law. Generally, any new law passed in the UK must be compatible with the Convention rights.

The Act requires all public authorities (such as government departments, councils, hospitals, the police, and those acting on behalf of public authorities) to act in a way which respects and protects an individual’s human rights.

What is a human right?

A human right is an entitlement which belongs to every person, regardless of whether they have a learning disability or not. The Human Rights Act applies to every person resident in the United Kingdom.

Why is the Human Rights Act important for people with learning disabilities?

The Human Rights Act places a duty on public authorities to ensure that all actions and decisions that they make take these rights into account. If a public authority does not, it may be in breach of an individual’s human rights and they could be taken to court.

Article 3 – freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment – is a very important right for people with learning disabilities. People with learning disabilities have the right to receive care and support that is dignified and respectful. A public authority must intervene if a person deliberately inflicts mental or physical harm on a person with a learning disability, which includes physical and/or psychological abuse in a health or care setting. The state has a duty to protect people from such treatment and investigate allegations.

Article 8 – a right to respect for private and family life – is also a very important right. People with learning disabilities have a right to live their life privately, to enjoy family relationships (including the right to live with their own family), and to enjoy their home peacefully without interference from public authorities.

Article 12 – the right to marry – means that people with learning disabilities have the right to marry and to start a family, just like everybody else.

Article 14 – protection from discrimination – requires all rights and freedoms set out in the Act to be applied without discrimination (direct or indirect). In other words, people with learning disabilities should not be stopped from enjoying any of the other rights in the Act because of their disability.

What can you do if you think that a person is being denied a human right?

If you think that a public authority has interfered with an individual’s human rights or has failed to act to ensure that their rights have been protected, you can try to resolve it informally at first. If this does not work, you can make a formal complaint to the public authority or take legal action. See the Citizens Advice website for more information.

Where can I get more information about the Human Rights Act?