‘The Human Rights Act represents a turning point in the development of the rights of the individuals.’
Consider, with appropriate example, the validity of this statement.
The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into English law. The effect of this is to strengthen the protection of individual rights by UK courts and provided improved remedies where these are violated. This is not new and it has been possible to rely on the Convention since the UK signed the convention back to the 1950s. All public bodies, such as courts, police, local government, hospitals and publicly funded schools, and also other bodies, carrying out public functions have to comply with the Convention Rights. This means, among other things, those individuals can take human rights into domestic courts; they no longer have to go to Strasbourg to argue their cases in the European Court of Human Rights.
The Human Rights Acts is known as watershed in the development of the individuals’ rights as it sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms that individuals in the UK have to access to. For example, The Right to Life (Article 2). This means that everyone’s right to life shall be protected by law. No one shall be deprived of his life intentionally save in the execution of a sentence of a court following his conviction of a crime for which the penalty is provided by law. In Pretty v United Kingdom, A woman suffering from an incurable degenerative disease wanted to control when and how she died. In order to avoid an undignified death through respiratory failure, she wanted her husband to help her commit suicide and sought an assurance that he would not be prosecuted for his assistance. The European Court of Human Rights found that the right to life does not create an entitlement to choose death rather than life. So, there was no right to die at the hands of a third person or with the assistance of a public authority.
Then, In Article 9: Freedom of thought, conscience and religion, everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching practice and observance. In R (on the application of Begum) v Denbigh High School, A Muslim schoolgirl was prevented from attending school because she refused to wear the school’s shalwar kameeze uniform, preferring instead to wear a more modest jilbab. She argued that this breached her rights under Article 9 to manifest her religion. The House of Lords found that there was no breach of her right to manifest her religion because she could have attended other schools in her catchment area that permitted students to wear the jilbab. In these circumstances it was inappropriate for the courts to disturb the decision of the school which was better placed to assess this sensitive situation.
While the Human Rights Act represents an important advance for civil liberties in the UK, there are still significant limitations on the impact that the Act will have. In particular, legislation which is incompatible with the Convention is still valid; judges do not have the power to strike down offending statutes as unconstitutional. Thus, the principle of parliamentary sovereignty remains intact. If a higher court does find that legislation is incompatible with the Convention, then it can choose to make a declaration to this effect (Art.4) and a Minister can subsequently amend the offending legislation by a fast-track procedure which avoids the full parliamentary process. An early example of a declaration of incompatibility is provided by the case of Wilson v First Country Trust (2003) where the House of Lords declared that a provision of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 violated the Convention.
In conclusion, the Human Rights Act is indeed a watershed for the development of the rights of the individuals but there are restrictions on the Human Rights Act in particular the convention has a limited impact as many of the articles are out of date. We have no human rights commission and so its impact is rather piecemeal. The Act did not come into force until Oct 2000 so its impact so far has been limited. Thus, the establishment of Commission for Equity and Human Rights has implemented various functions such as providing advice and guidance to people wishing to assert their rights and conducting inquires; which is to promote both human rights and equality of opportunity.