The Human Rights Act 1998 is a monumental piece of legislation in the history of Britain. There is no other document that so clearly illustrates the rights given to the citizens of Great Britain (or should I say subjects?...). It received Royal Assent on the 9th November 1998 but came into force on the 2nd October 2000 since the judges needed two years of training first.

In Britain our Bill of Rights only partially mentioned the rights of the people (mentioning laws that are very similar to the laws set out in the Habeas Corpus Act). It did not lay out the rights of the people instead it limited the rights of the monarch. This has been a tradition that has held up for ages. We have what are known as negative rights. Rather than being told what we can do via a Bill of Rights we instead have statutes that dictate what we cannot do.

The Human Rights Act is derived from the European Convention of Human Rights that had to be adopted by all member states. Though Tony Blair might try to claim that it was introduced for moral reasons the underlying fact of the matter is that he has to bring it into the British statute book or leave the EU. This means that it has many things in common with the European convention.

Here's a quick precis of what the act entails:

The Human Rights Act is the first document to state rights of British citizens in an easy to read form (something which is very important). Though having these rights is something not necessarily different (we have had the right to roam about freely for quite some time, for example) but it has never been codified into a single document. It used to be difficult to discover what rights the people are allowed since you have to start with a full list of rights and then go through all the statutes scrubbing out the ones that have been denied. This document changes this.

It also is a legally binding document that can be used to prosecute public bodies that infringe on our rights. This means that people in Britain can use the judiciary to sue public bodies for infringments of their rights (including the government).

It also used to be the case that the judiciary, under no circumstances could stop Parliament from passing a bill. It was supposed to judge using the statutes (and common law) not judge the statutes themselves. However, this act can be used to rule a bill as contravening our human rights. It can be classed as unconstitutional. The government would be wise to listen to this ruling.

It used to be the case that if one thought one (or more) of their rights was being infringed upon then they had to travel to the European Court of Human rights to have their case heard (you can still do this but they will want to know that you have exhausted all routes in the UK first before they will hear your case). This is not only awkward and time consuming but is out of the reach of a lot of the populace due to money restrictions. Not everyone can just drop their job and pop off to Brussels for a spot of tea and legal fisticuffs with a government (for example). However, this act allows people to use the British judicial system similar to the European Court of Human Rights. This allows the system to be much more accessible to the people. However, there is one little problem with this. The government, wanting to not be too radical, only allowed the judiciary to rule that a bill was contravening the rights laid out in the act. The government doesn't have to do anything about that ruling.
As a side note, the British judicial system is not the same as in many countries (such as the USA) since it has no power to stop government. Though the government would be foolish to go against a judge's decision, it could. This has been used as an argument to prove the presidential, elected dictator style of governing that Tony Blair has adopted since he will not give others power to strike him down. He could of made the judiciary more powerful but nooooo....that would be too radical!

There has been some criticism of the Human Rights Act, mainly because people see it as not going far enough. There are three reasons to believe this.

  1. As stated above, the judiciary does not have the power to act on a ruling that has been made.
  2. The act is not entrenched so it is easy to change. All that has to be done is repeal the act. This is due to Parliamentary Soveriegnty which states that Parliament has the power to make any law it wishes, including the removal of older laws. No law passed by Parliament can bind the next Parliament and stop them passing a law which is contrary to the first law. So when there is another election, the winning party can pass legislation which could take away a number of our rights and nothing could be done to stop this since the HRA cannot stop Parliament.
    This is contrary to the US Constitution which allows the Supreme Court to knock down any legislation which it sees as unconstitutional.
  3. There were calls for a Human Rights Commission to look into possible infringments, to scrutinise government etc similar to the Northen Ireland Human Rights Commission (which was implemented under the Good Friday Agreement). This was not implemented though it could arrive at some point. There is a Human Rights Unit which is charged with implementing the act and making sure that the UK complies with other international human rights treaties.
created using politics notes and help from www.humanrights.gov.uk
Anyway, after much chin wagging, here is the act itself. go to www.hmso.gov.uk to find that act (and others from 1988 onwards).

Click on the section headings to get to the different bits except for the schedules where you click on the subsections there. These are quite long so I split them up. The first subsection of the Schedules is what would interest most people since it has the actual rights in it.


© Crown Copyright 1998

The legislation contained on this web site is subject to Crown Copyright protection. It may be reproduced free of charge provided that it is reproduced accurately and that the source and copyright status of the material is made evident to users.

It should be noted that the right to reproduce the text of Acts of Parliament does not extend to the Royal Arms and the Queen's Printer imprints. The text of this Internet version of the Act has been prepared to reflect the text as it received Royal Assent. The authoritative version is the Queen's Printer copy published by The Stationery Office Limited as the Human Rights Act 1998, ISBN 0 10 544298 4. Purchase this item.For details of how to obtain an official copy see How to obtain The Stationery Office Limited titles (see the Stationary office website for this link -- webtoe)


Human Rights Act 1998

1998 Chapter 42

ARRANGEMENT OF SECTIONS

Introduction

1. The Convention Rights.
2. Interpretation of Convention rights.

Legislation

3. Interpretation of legislation.
4. Declaration of incompatibility.
5. Right of Crown to intervene.

Public authorities

6. Acts of public authorities.
7. Proceedings.
8. Judicial remedies.
9. Judicial acts.

Remedial action

10. Power to take remedial action.

Other rights and proceedings

11. Safeguard for existing human rights.
12. Freedom of expression.
13. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Derogations and reservations

14. Derogations.
15. Reservations.
16. Period for which designated derogations have effect.
17. Periodic review of designated reservations.

Judges of the European Court of Human Rights

18. Appointment to European Court of Human Rights.

Parliamentary procedure

19. Statements of compatibility.

Supplemental

20. Orders etc. under this Act.
21. Interpretation, etc.
22. Short title, commencement, application and extent.

SCHEDULES

Schedule 1 - The Articles.
Part I - The Convention.
Part II - The First Protocol.
Part III - The Sixth Protocol.

Schedule 2 - Remedial Orders.
Schedule 3 - Derogation and Reservation.
Part I - Derogation.
Part II - Reservation.

Schedule 4 - Judicial Pensions.


Human Rights Act 1998: Introduction ->

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