Human Rights in Everyday Life
Most of us are familiar with the term 'Human Rights' but might not know with what it really means, and how it affects our everyday lives.
Posted on 17 August 2020
If you’d like an introduction into human rights, why they are important, and how the Human Rights Act came about, we recommend reading our simple guide to the Human Rights Act 1998.
If you’ve read an article in the newspaper or seen something in the news about Human Rights being infringed, you might have been shocked or saddened by the news, but it might still feel distant to you and your current situation.
During this article, we’ll be discussing everyday examples that are relatable to many, with the aim of raising your understanding of human rights and how important it is that you can recognise when they are being breached. We’ll also be providing practical steps which you can take if you feel your rights, or somebody else’s rights, are being infringed.
Below are four everyday scenarios where our clients’ rights have been infringed, specifically;
Article 3: freedom from torture or inhumane and degrading treatment
Article 5: the right to liberty and security
Article 8: right to a private and family life
Article 14: protection from discrimination
These are real-life case studies, but to protect our clients’ privacy, their names have been changed.
Scenario 1 - Inhumane treatment in hospital
Articles engaged: Article 3: freedom from torture or inhumane and degrading treatment, and Article 8: right to a private and family life
We acted for the family of Dorothy, who was admitted to hospital having suffered a stroke. Dorothy sadly passed away a few weeks later, at the age of 82. Dorothy’s family were very upset about the care that she had received whilst in hospital, they believed she had suffered avoidable pain and distress, and had not been treated with dignity or respect. The family complained to the NHS Trust but felt that the response they received did not address their concerns.
We acted on behalf of Dorothy’s estate, bringing a claim in negligence and using the Human Rights Act to argue that Dorothy’s rights under Article 3 and 8 had been breached. We obtained an opinion from an expert nurse and found that Dorothy had been in severe pain for long periods as a result of not receiving sufficient pain relief, that she was not given adequate food or fluid, and that staff failed to address her basic needs such as providing mouth care.
Dorothy’s estate was awarded a sum of damages in an out of court settlement.
Scenario 2 – Independent voting for people with disabilities
Articles engaged: Article 14: protection from discrimination and Article 3 of the First Protocol: the right to participate in free elections
We act for Pooja who is registered blind. Pooja is taking legal action after the government failed to implement measures that would allow her to vote independently and in secret, and that the current arrangements for her to vote are unlawful. At the moment, she cannot vote without assistance from someone else. We are arguing on behalf of Pooja that the government’s failure to bring in arrangements that allowed Pooja to vote without assistance is a breach of her human rights.
Scenario 3 – A Council’s discriminatory charges for care
Articles breached: Article 14: protection from discrimination, and Article 1 of the First Protocol: the right to peaceful enjoyment of your property
Our team is bringing a judicial review (a type of legal challenge) of a council’s policy in relation to charging people with disabilities for the care they receive. We are seeking to argue that the regulations that mean the council can charge people for services are discriminatory and a breach of our client’s human rights under Article 14 and Article 1 Protocol 1 because she is being treated less favourably (without justification) than others.
Due to our client’s disability, she finds it more difficult to find work than a person without a disability, so is being placed at a disadvantage, which we are arguing is a breach of her human rights.
Scenario 4 – A caring care home for Claudette
Articles breached: Article 5: the right to liberty and security, and Article 8: right to a private and family life
We act for Claudette who is 87 years old and suffers from dementia. In recent years, Claudette has been cared for by her friend, Desmond, in his home. As her condition has progressed Desmond has struggled to cope with caring for Claudette and sought help from social services. Social services then decided to move Claudette to a care home. Initially they were proposing to put Claudette into a care home in a different city. As Claudette didn’t want to move and Desmond didn’t think she should be moved so far away, the Court of Protection became involved.
We acted for Claudette to ensure that the care home she was put into was appropriate and to try to minimise the distress in moving her. Claudette was moved into a care home near to Desmond. After Claudette moved to the care home, it wanted to stop Desmond having contact with her as her carers thought it would be too upsetting for Claudette, however Claudette’s representative felt that it was important for Claudette to be able to maintain contact with her friend and so we sought expert advice from a psychiatrist on how this should be managed.
Claudette and Desmond currently see each other once a week but may be able to see more of each other in the near future. This case involves Claudette’s rights under Articles 5 and 8.
We hope after reading our clients’ stories, you are encouraged to think about your own rights, and those of your friends and/or family members.
What steps should you take if you think yours or someone else’s rights are being infringed?
If you believe your rights, or someone else’s rights are being infringed, we suggest you:
- Determine under which article your rights have been infringed – before acting, try to establish (if you can) what human right or rights you think have been breached. Our simple guide to the Human Rights Act 1998 may be able to assist with this.
- Try making an informal complaint – once you know which right or rights were infringed. Sometimes raising this informally is the best solution as this could stop the situation escalating. However, if the issue can’t be resolved informally, you can make a formal complaint.
- Follow the formal complaints procedure – many public authorities have their own procedure in place, but if this isn’t available, make your complaint in writing. If you are unhappy with the response you’ve received or the issue is still ongoing, consider raising your complaint with an ombudsman.
- Contact an ombudsman – and ask them to review your complaint. Getting a response can take some time, so at this stage you may want to consider taking legal action.
- Seek advice from a human rights lawyer – to find out if you have a case and the likelihood of legal action being successful.
Remember to act quickly – there can be time limits for taking legal action. Usually you have one year from the date of the breach of human rights, but it can be less in some cases.
It is important to remember the Human Rights Act 1998 is applicable to public authorities and other bodies, which may be public or private, when they are carrying out public functions. Every resident of the UK is entitled to protection under the Human Rights Act.
If you feel your human rights, or those of someone close to you, have been infringed, feel free to contact Leigh Day’s human rights and civil liberties team for assistance. You can call us on 020 7650 1200 or fill in our online enquiry form.