Creating a fairer Britain
Title of guidance:
Year published: 2006
Length: 64 pages
Format: PDF (865Kb)
Other formats: No other formats indicated
Producer/ Publisher: Ministry of Justice
Type of organisation: Public authority
All (cross-sector) | Human Rights Act | European Convention on Human Rights | GB wide| Case studies | External service guidance
Audience: Service management | Front-line service personnel | Policy managers and directors
Topics: Human rights | proportionality | balancing competing rights | positive obligations
This is a guide to the Human Rights Act (HRA) written in generic terms so as to be relevant to staff working at all levels in all public authorities. It explains the origins of the HRA, the rights it enshrines and the relevance of these rights to different public authorities. It provides case studies to show how human rights work in practice. It contains a 'jargon buster' and answers to frequently asked questions, as well as details on where to find further information and useful contacts.
The handbook explains what obligations public authorities have under the Human Rights Act (HRA), which incorporated into domestic law most of the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The handbook was designed by the Ministry of Justice in part to address some common misconceptions about the HRA. It emphasises in particular that the rights of one person cannot be used to 'trump' the right of the general public to be kept safe, as erroneous media reporting has sometimes suggested.
For each right contained in the HRA, the handbook states, in non-legal terms:
If you are looking for an accessible guide to the HRA, this handbook is likely to meet your requirements. For those who want a more comprehensive guide to using the HRA, and the principles it contains, as a decision making tool, the Human Rights Act Toolkit by Jenny Watson and Mitchell Woolf (Legal Aid Group: 2008) - on which this handbook is partially based - might be more useful.
The handbook explains that there are three types of rights in the HRA:
The handbook contains a human rights flowchart designed to help you in applying human rights in the workplace.
It is particularly relevant when you are restricting a qualified right - either by balancing one right against another, or by balancing the rights of an individual against those of the community.
The book states that the flowchart can also be used when you are making decisions or developing policies that are previously untested.
Central to the flowchart is the concept of proportionality. As the handbook notes, this principle can most easily be understood by the saying: 'Don't use a sledgehammer to crack a nut'.
This means that, when taking decisions that may interfere with a qualified right, a public authority 'must interfere with the right as little as possible, only going as far as is necessary to achieve the desired aim'. The handbook advises that once human
rights are being interfered with in a restrictive manner, you should always obtain legal advice.
The handbook explains that interference with a right may not always simply consist of an action that is not compatible with Convention rights; it may also be a failure to take action where a right places a "positive obligation" on public authorities to take positive steps to prevent the breach of that right.
Positive obligations are one of the most important - and yet commonly overlooked - responsibilities under the HRA. Public authorities have a positive obligation not just to refrain from harm, but also to take proactive steps to prevent harm, no matter who or what is causing it.
This handbook offers some brief examples of when positive obligations come into play, particularly in relation to the (absolute) right to life.
A more detailed explanation of what positive obligations entail for public authorities in specific circumstances can be found in the Human Rights Act Toolkit.
Example: A local authority failed to separate four children from their mother even though it was clear that the children were being subjected to an unacceptable level of abuse and neglect over a four year period. The Court found that the authority had a
positive obligation to remove the children as soon as they became aware of abuse that might amount to inhuman or degrading treatment.
Source: Human Rights, Human Lives - a handbook for public authorities, p.11
The handbook does not directly address issues of equality.
We hope that you found the resource helpful and easy to use. Please let us know about other guidance or references that you think we should include. Send us your feedback.