Human Rights in the UK
Everyone is entitled to equality before the law, freedom of expression, access to basic services like education and health and an adequate standard of living. These rights are set out in the international human rights treaties that the UK has ratified.
The HRA requires British courts to interpret laws in a way that is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It also gives people access to effective remedy when their rights are violated.
International treaties impose binding obligations on countries to respect and protect certain rights. Those rights include the right to freedom from discrimination, including on the grounds of race, religion, and sexuality. They also include the right to family life and privacy.
The UK was a founding member of the Council of Europe, which created the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. This organisation was formed in the aftermath of World War II to help set and enforce high standards of human rights for people across Europe.
Those rights are protected in the UK by the Human Rights Act, which incorporates them into domestic British law. It allows you to challenge actions by public authorities in British courts if they infringe your rights. Judges can issue a declaration that a law infringes your Convention rights if it is found to be unjust or unfair. In such cases, the law may need to be amended or repealed.
Human rights law
Human rights laws define a minimum standard of decent treatment to which everyone is entitled. They include: not being discriminated against because of gender, race, religion or sexuality; freedom of speech and expression; the right to life, liberty and property; not being subjected to torture or inhumane and degrading treatment; and the right to a fair trial.
The UK’s Human Rights Act requires public authorities to interpret legislation so that it complies with the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). If a law does not comply, a court can issue a declaration of incompatibility. This does not invalidate the legislation but encourages Parliament to amend it.
In a limited number of cases, courts will block deportation on human rights grounds. This is done after careful consideration of the potential harm to the person concerned and the impact on society if they are allowed to remain. This is a balanced approach that ensures people’s rights are protected.
The Human Rights Act (HRA)
The HRA incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. It gives people the right to bring legal action for breaches of ECHR rights before domestic courts without first having to go to Strasbourg.
The Act also requires all courts to interpret legislation so that it is compatible with the ECHR. Where this is not possible, a declaration of incompatibility can be issued. This is an important safeguard to ensure that the UK complies with the human rights obligations it has under international treaties.
However, critics of the HRA argue that it shifts law-making powers away from Parliament and towards the courts. They say it encourages judges to interfere with the policy priorities of elected politicians, creating a ‘democracy deficit’. If a public authority wants to restrict a ‘qualified’ right, it must show that doing so is necessary in the interests of the wider community or to protect the rights of others.
Deportation on human rights grounds
When a person is facing deportation from the UK, they can use a series of exceptions to argue that their removal would be unduly harsh or disproportionate. These exceptions must be weighed carefully by tribunal judges, who have to ensure that they are not being used as a shield against the public interest in deportation.
Human rights experts have raised concerns that the Home Office’s failure to fully consider these issues undermines lawyers and tribunal judges’ willingness or capacity to do so, particularly in light of cuts to legal aid. As a result, these exceptions may be misused and can lead to injustice.
It is important to remember that the deportation of foreign criminals is a matter for the police and the courts, not politicians. Politicians can be held to account for their decisions by human rights laws, which are intended to protect people’s rights and liberties. However, the UK’s record on human rights is mixed. For example, the government continues to fund countries engaged in egregious human rights violations, such as Bahrain; and has voted against a UN resolution on racism, xenophobia, and discrimination.