Why do public authorities interfere with human rights?

Sometimes, your individual rights can conflict with someone else’s, or the interests of the wider community. In certain circumstances, rights may have been restricted to protect the rights of others or the community. For example, your right to free speech may be restricted to protect another’s right to privacy.

When do Public authorities interfere with human rights?

Some human rights are absolute i.e. the right to life (Article 2) or the right to not suffer torture, inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 3).

Other human rights are conditional, meaning they can be deprived in certain circumstances e.g. Article 5 – right to liberty.

Other human rights are qualified. This means that when deciding whether to interfere with those rights, an authority can take into account other competing factors. It is a question in many cases of what is proportionate in the circumstances. Qualified human rights include:

  • Respect for private and family life (Article 8)
  • Freedom to manifest religion or belief (Article 9)
  • Freedom of expression (Article 10)
  • Freedom of assembly (Article 11)

Interference can only be justified however where it is authorised under the law and is for a legitimate aim. These include:

  • protection of other people’s rights
  • national security
  • public safety
  • prevention of crime
  • protection of health

When must a public authority follow the Human Rights Act?

Public authorities and also public sector organisations such as NHS, police, and schools must follow the Human Rights Act, even if it’s not a public function. Private organisations must follow the Human Rights Act when they carry out public functions.

Human rights and judicial review

All UK courts apply the law in a way compatible with Human Rights; it must be interpreted in line with the Human Rights Act as much as possible.

Human rights arguments can brought as part of a claim for judicial review. The remedies sought may be similar to those being sought in the judicial review. If however a challenge is being brought to a piece of domestic legislation or statutory material, it may be appropriate to seek, in addition, a declaration from the court that the law in question is incompatible with the ECHR.