Public authorities in the UK have obligations to promote and protect human rights, and all public authorities must act in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. This means treating individuals fairly, with dignity and respect, while also safeguarding the rights of the wider community.
The Human Rights Act 1998 makes it possible for individuals to challenge in the UK courts any actions or decisions of public authorities that they believe have violated their rights. Previously, individuals had to take such a challenge to the European Court of Human Rights. UK courts must take account of human rights in their deliberations.
The Act applies to all public authorities (such as central government departments, local authorities and NHS trusts) and other bodies performing public functions (such as private companies operating prisons). These organisations must ensure that they are acting compatibly with the Convention rights when providing a service or making decisions about individuals.
Although the Act does not apply to private individuals or companies (except where they are performing public functions), sometimes a public authority has a duty to stop people or companies abusing human rights. For example, a public authority that knows a child is being abused by its parents has a duty to protect the child from inhuman or degrading treatment.
The Act urges public authorities to apply a human rights framework to decision making across public services in order to achieve better service provision.
Applying a ‘human rights framework’ means including core human rights values, such as equality, dignity, privacy, respect and involvement in decision making, whether a public service is being delivered directly to the public or a new plan or procedure is being devised.
Public authorities must take human rights into account in their everyday work.