Because of our Human Rights Act …

Posted on Tuesday, August 17th, 2021

As the government reviews the Human Rights Act, we are sharing stories of how the Act helps ordinary people in their everyday lives. #HumanRightsOurRights

The concept of human rights is part of the values and teaching of Judaism.  It is also part of our history. In the shadow of the Holocaust, International human rights law was developed as a way to protect individuals from the power of the state.  Since 2000 the Human Rights Act has brought these rights into the remit of the UK courts.

Human rights belong to everyone.  In these true stories we show how ordinary people have benefited from the Human Rights Act in their everyday lives. In some cases people have gone to court to access their rights.  For many, merely mentioning the Human Rights Act to the authorities has been sufficient to get a decision overturned.

It is even possible to use the Human Rights Act to change an unfair law. If a court determines that a particular law is incompatible with the Human Rights Act, it asks Parliament to amend it.

Most of the stories we tell relate to the

  • right to family life (article 8 of the Human Rights Act) 

Others relate to

  • freedom from torture, degrading and inhuman treatment (article 3)
  • right to liberty (article 5)
  • freedom of religion (article 9)

The following stories demonstrate how the Human Rights Act has helped ordinary people in their everyday lives.

The Equal Marriage Act came in because not allowing same sex marriage breached gay and lesbian people’s rights to family life.

Hughes Chang was 17 when he was kept in police custody for 12 hours without being able to phone his Mum.  When he took the police to court the judge said his right to family life had been breached and the police had to change their rules.  Now seventeen year olds in police custody are treated as children, not adults.  This film dramatizes these events The boy who changed the law.

When their local council allocated Mr Driscoll but not Mrs Driscoll to a care home, they argued their right to family life meant they should stay together.  After they held a demonstration and involved the local newspaper, Social Services changed their minds and placed them in the same home.  Our film Sunrise, not Sunset is inspired by their story.

When Balbir* had a stroke that left her very disabled, she could only use the ground floor of her family home.  This meant her washing in the kitchen sink and using a commode in the living room which was also her bedroom.  She told the council this breached her human rights as it was degrading and they put in a downstairs bathroom.

Ruth* told the council it would be a breach of her human rights if she had to return to her abusive partner.  They allocated her a council house.

Jewish and Muslim burials are expected to happen within 24 hours of a death.  A Jewish Burial Society used the Human Rights Act to change coroners’ guidance so that this would be taken into account rather than burying people in the order of when they died.  Read the judgment.

A girl with special needs* lived just too near her school to be eligible for the school bus.  After her mum told her headteacher who told her Local Authority this breached her right to family life, this policy was reconsidered and she was allowed to take the school bus.

When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, it was against the Human Rights Act for the Home Office to return any Afghan asylum seekers to Afghanistan as they would risk torture or death.

When Debartri* fled a violent partner with her children the council wanted to separate the family.  Debartri argued that they had a right to family life so the council housed them together. This film tells what happened We make human rights change lives: Debartri.

When the nurses in Peter’s* mental health unit stopped him leaving the premises to see his sister and friends, Peter argued this breached his right to liberty as he was an informal patient. After that he was able to leave whenever he wished.

Having lived in this country a long time and put down roots such as marrying and having children, one’s right to family life needs to be considered if one is threatened with being deported

*More details on these stories thanks to the British Institute of Human Rights 


Watch our film ‘Sunrise, not Sunset’ – the story of how the Human Rights Act reunited an elderly couple whose local authority had placed in different care homes.

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