Human Rights

The 1950 European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a binding international agreement that the UK helped draft and has sought to comply with for over half a century. However, for many years the Convention was not a full part of our own law, so using the Convention usually meant taking a case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg. This was often time-consuming and expensive.

Since coming into force on 2 October 2000, the Human Rights Act (HRA) has made rights from the ECHR (the Convention rights) enforceable in our own courts. The Act works in three key ways:

  • First, it requires all legislation to be interpreted and given effect as far as possible compatibly with the Convention rights. Where it is not possible to do so, a court may quash or disapply subordinate legislation (such as Regulations or Orders), but only Parliament can make changes to primary legislation (such as Acts of Parliament).
  • Second, it makes it unlawful for a public authority to act incompatibly with the Convention rights and allows for a case to be brought in a UK court or tribunal against the authority if it does so. However, a public authority will not have acted unlawfully under the Act if as the result of a provision of primary legislation (such as another Act of Parliament) it could not have acted differently. In general, a person who wants to take the UK to the ECtHR must first bring their case before our domestic courts.
  • Third, UK courts and tribunals must take account of Convention rights in all cases that come before them. This means, for example, that they must develop the common law compatibly with the Convention rights, taking account of Strasbourg case law.

Public authorities and human rights

The guidance for public authorities consists of:

Making sense of human rights - a short introduction: this guide is designed for officials in public authorities to assist them in working with the Human Rights Act 1998. It gives a brief introduction to human rights for use in straightforward situations.

The printed version of this guide also came with a DVD: Human rights, human Lives: how the Human Rights Act influences the public sector.
Making sense of human rights (PDF 0.26mb 20 pages)

Other guidance

Human Rights Act for regulators and inspectorates

A handbook designed to support people working at all levels within regulatory bodies and inspectorates to meet their own legal obligations and to ensure that public services meet the needs of individual service users. It shows how to use human rights to make decisions about complex problems and to design regulatory and inspection frameworks, with case studies of bodies that have done so.

The Human Rights Framework as a Tool for Regulators and Inspectorates (PDF 0.51mb)

Human Rights Act for CJS practitioners

These documents provide general, practical guidance to CJS staff about the impact of the Human Rights Act on a range of issues.

Right Here, Right Now is an educational resource produced by the MoJ and several human rights organisations to help teachers teach citizenship through human rights

Guidance on the Human Rights Act for CJS practitioners

A Guide to the Human Rights Act 1998
Published on 2 June 2008
This detailed guide explains how the Human Rights Act works and how the various rights have been applied. A Welsh version is available on request.
Study guide (PDF 0.36mb 47 pages)

A Guide to the Human Rights Act: a booklet for people with learning disabilities
Published on 2 June 2008
A booklet explaining the Human Rights Act in everyday terms to people with learning disabilities.
A Guide to the Human Rights Act: a booklet for people with learning disabilities (PDF 0.33mb 24 pages)

Audit commission - Human Rights: improving public service delivery
Published 2003
This review of examines how public bodies have responded to the Act and how that response could be improved with a view to enhancing service delivery.
Human Rights improving public service delivery (PDF 0.27mb 36 pages)

Hard copies of publications

Printed copies of the following guides are available free of charge by telephoning 020 3334 3734 or requesting by email.

•  Introduction to Human Rights
•  A Guide to the Human Rights Act 1998: third edition

If you wish to write to the Ministry of Justice regarding human rights, correspondence should be sent to general enquiries.  

NOTE: The Ministry of Justice human rights team cannot provide advice or assistance in relation to individual cases. If you feel that your rights have been breached, you may wish to seek legal advice.

The following organisations may be able to assist:

Ministry of Justice


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